Austrian traditions: How to celebrate St. Martin's Day in Austria
Austrians celebrate St. Martin's Day, also known as Martinstag, even if it is not an official bank holiday. From traditional food to parades, here's how to enjoy the day.
Austria is a very catholic country and several important dates for the church are official bank holidays. However, even the dates that are not holidays are still often celebrated by the population - even if just by preparing a traditional meal.
Martinstag, or St. Martin's Day, is one of those dates that people don't get off from work, but still, many Austrians will commemorate every November 11th.
Who was Saint Martin?
According to Catholic tradition, Saint Martin of Tours was a "conscientious objector who wanted to be a monk; a monk who was manoeuvred into being a bishop; a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy to heretics".
As the legend goes, Saint Martin, a Roman soldier, gave a beggar half his red cloak to protect him during a snowstorm.
Through this good deed, Saint Martin is considered the patron saint of travellers and the poor and is seen as an example to children to share and be giving.
One legend has it that he hid in a goose stall when he was summoned by the church to become a bishop, as he felt unworthy. But the geese cackled so loudly that Martin was found – and now geese are eaten on his name day.
How is the date celebrated?
The main festivities revolve around the evening meal; traditionally, Martinigansl goose often served with cabbage and dumplings.
Mid-November was the time of year when farmers completed their autumn wheat seeding and slaughtered the fattened cattle before the winter.
But across Austria, St Martin’s Day, and the weeks leading up to it, is marked by eating Martinigansl – roasted goose served with aromatic chestnuts, red cabbage and fluffy bread dumplings. The meal is just as important for some people as Easter and Christmas dinners.
Traditionally, the day is also the occasion for naming the year's new wine. Therefore, it has special significance for the wine regions and villages in Burgenland around Lake Neusiedl.
Where can I try the traditional meal?
If you’re planning to try Martinigansl in Vienna, the Kurier newspaper recommends Rudi's Beisl in the 5th district. Their goose is served with red cabbage, white cabbage and potato or bread dumplings for €29.90.
If you don’t eat meat, you could try the ‘goose’ at Cafe Harvest, Vienna's second district. It’s made from soy fillets and served along with red cabbage and potato dumplings. It's already available for €17.80.
A goose broth with baked Kaiserschöberl croutons is followed by free-range goose breast with goose praline, red cabbage, and Waldviertel dumplings. Dessert is a sweet baked apple served with gingerbread foam.
The St. Martins procession
In parts of Austria, children celebrate Martinstag by carrying paper lanterns they have made in school in an evening procession. In some places, the lantern procession ends with a Martinsfeuer (bonfire).
“Der Laternenumzug”, or lantern procession, is an annual celebration in honour of St. Martin’s Day.
However, while St. Martin’s Day is an occasion celebrated by Catholics across Europe, including the UK, this children’s tradition seems to only be commonplace in German-speaking regions (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and some areas of Belgium, Italy and Poland).
READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Laternenumzug
The procession is usually organised through local kindergartens and schools, and the children themselves often make the lanterns during their classes. The children are often accompanied by a man dressed as St. Martin in his iconic red cloak.