2 December, 2021       LISBON - MAX. Partly sunny and breezyº, MIN. 03º

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Folders  |  St Martin and Magusto
St Martin and Magusto
St Martin and Magusto
"L' image de la vie,ah Nathanaël, est pour moi un fruit plein de saveur sur les lèvres pleines du désir" (A.Gide )
Despite the mild weather, autumn has arrived! Soon the vendors of hot chestnuts will take to the streets of Lisbon, their wares filling the air with a gentle aroma of roasting chestnuts.  Served in pieces of newspaper for the price of 2 euros a dozen (duzia), these delicious Portuguese chestnuts are reputed to be of the highest quality and with a unique taste.
The festival of Magusto is coming, in honour of Saint Martin (Sâo Martinho).
But who is St Martin and why is he so honoured?
Martin was born in Hungary in 316, the son of a military judge and initially followed his father as he travelled for his work. During this period, Christianity was spreading. At the age of 10, he felt a calling and wanted to convert to Christianity, but at the age of 15 and in order not to jeopardize his parent’s social standing, he accepted to join the army.
He was a simple soldier responsible for doing the rounds when he was sent to Gaul in one of the garrisons in Amiens.
One wet autumn day in 338, at the city gates Martin met a pauper chilled to the bone, who begged for money. As he did not have anything to give him because he had already given his money to another wretch, Martin used his sword to cut his cape in half and shared it with the beggar to protect him from the cold.
Legend has it that following this gesture the rain immediately stopped falling and the sun started to shine, giving rise to the expression "Saint Martin’s summer". The following night, Martin dreamt of Christ wearing his shortened cape.
In March 354, Martin was forced to take part in the Rhine campaign against the  Alamans. His religious beliefs prevented him from fighting and he offered to act as a human shield. Martin was tied together with chains in preparation, but for some unknown reason the barbarians asked for peace and Martin was saved.
He left the army two years later and was baptised. His past as a warrior prevented him from becoming a priest, so he became an exorcist. At the age of 44, he settled in France, close to Poitiers and created a small hermitage, the first community of monks in Gaul. Martin preached in this monastery for nearly 10 years. He became well-known by the common people and performed his first miracles.  In 370 he was made bishop against his will but did not change his way of life: he still roamed the countryside to spread the gospel to the peasants.
In his twilight years, he was called upon to reconcile the clerics. Despite his great age, he travelled to Condes sur Loire to the west of Tours to try and unify the church. The following day, exhausted by his life as a soldier of the church, Martin died on a bed of ashes, as a Saintly man. The inhabitants of Poitiers and Tours argued over his body which was finally stolen by the latter. He was buried on 11 November in Tours.
Another legend claims that as his body crossed the Loire river between Poitiers and Tours, the flowers started to bloom. One more reason behind the expression “Saint Martin’s summer”.
St Martin is commemorated in France and many other European countries:  http://home.nordnet.fr/~mfroideval/martin01.htm (in French)
Thus, Saint Martin and two legends presented above are responsible for the sunny days during which the Portuguese celebrate Magusto.
But what is Magusto?
Magusto is a celebration that takes place on the night between the 10th and 11th November. Many neighbourhoods organise parties - brought to life by folk groups or singers from the Transmontano -  where you can eat an endless supply of chestnuts and drink as much traditional “agua-pé” you can handle.
In 2007, a giant “assador” capable of grilling one ton of chestnuts and feeding up to 7000 people at a time was set-up by the municipality at Terreiro do Paço. The grill now features in the Guinness Book of Records – maybe such an event will be repeated in 2008?
Many tascas, bars, cafés also offer chestnuts to their customers. Usually, people eat this accompanied by a glass of agua-pé or Jeropiga.
The latter is a sweet, slightly fermented drink, made up of  25% plum or pear brandy. It’s more of a lady’s drink and contains 18º of alcohol per litre. It goes very well with dishes made with dried fruit and some types of cake.
Agua-pé is a wine produced using the grape juice that remains after pressing, to which water is added and the mix is left to ferment overnight. It is therefore low in alcohol (4 to 5º).
In principle, the law forbids the production and sale of these highly popular and sought-after wines. But thanks to Saint Martin and his miracles, we can still enjoy these delights… Make a date in the diary for the 11th November!

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