St. Martin’s Day
St. Martin’s Day (10.11) is in the Catholic tradition the memorial day of Bishop Martin of Tours and it is celebrated on 11 November. After the reformation, St. Martin’s Day was moved to 10 November in Protestant countries, and since then it has been related to the birthday of Martin Luther. The Estonian customs of St. Martin’s Day have to do with asking the fields to be more fruitful. St. Martin’s Day has, however, also been termed the day of pigs: a pig was slaughtered for that day and the neighbours were asked to the "funeral of the pig. The meal of St. Martin’s Day consisted of Swedish turnips (later also potatoes) boiled along with a pig’s head. The Martinmen were usually given a half of the pig’s head. St. Martin’s Day was important for us because of weather forecasts made on that day and the work bans aiming to make the field more fruitful and the pigs more procreative.
The central habit was being a Martinman. It was mostly boys that posed as Martinmen (Mardid or Martin-beggars in Estonian) only in the second half of the 19th century did girls join them. Martinmen presented themselves as one family: their leader was the so-called Martin-father, who had brought along the Martin-mother (or the Martin-bride) and the Martin-children. Sometimes the Martin-trestle, the Martin-bear and the Martin-horse were added this is probably an earlier feature. Martinmen wore coats that had been turned inside out, beards made of straw or tow, hats twined from straw, and girdles. Especially in Southern Estonia it has been stressed that Martinmen were terrifying and ugly (as compared to Kadris, who were the beautiful beggars). Later a requirement was introduced that the Martin-children had to wear the clothes of the opposite sex (boys those of girls, and girls those of boys). At the end of the 19th century, people started to imitate professional men (a chimney-cleaner, a soldier, etc.), when dressing up. There was an especially popular belief that one of the Martinmen had to be dressed like a person serving in the army. The Martinmen brought along a musician, and in earlier times they also carried a bell and a whip (ringing the bell and lashing the whip served the aim of fending off the dark powers that were believed to be active on St. Martin’s Eve).
Posing as Martinmen began with the Martin-father making a pact with the head of some household (called the Martin-grandfather), who gave the Martinmen permission to gather at his place, and also brewed beer for the occasion. Once the Martinmen had completed their rounds in the village, they gathered again at the grandfather’s place, where they either ate or divided among themselves the food they had collected. A part of the food was left to the Martin-grandfather, so as to thank him for the beer and the place to party. Partying has been organised in places as a wedding parody (the so-called Martin-wedding).
The performance given by the Martinmen included singing and dancing. Sometimes there were traditional prose pieces. The Martin-song is a long cycle consisting of various parts that accompanied the activities of the Martinmen and that varied between parishes both in the parts and the order of the cycle.
In Western and Southern Estonia the greeting song was preceded by asking for permission to enter, performed in prose (in the Western parts it was only a short phrase, in the Southern parts it was an extended humorous monologue). The greeting song usually consists of two parts: first, a description is provided about from where and how the Martinmen have come; thereafter people ask to be let inside (because the nails of the Martinman are cold).
The central motif of the entering song is the prayer for the daughter of the family ("fire, warm the hearth"). When coming into the room, the Martinmen greet the family with a traditional piece of prose ("Good evening, may God enter your room, etc.). When coming into the room, the Martin-father took a handful of grains from the bag around his neck and seeded these on the floor, singing a relevant chant. The words of this fertility song are highly varied; in Northern Estonia they mainly focus on good luck with crops, in Southwestern Estonia on good luck with cattle. After the grains had been seeded, the Martin-father took his bundle of birch twigs, delivered a blow to each person in the household and said: Get well! (or: You crude thing, get well!").
The dancing of Martinmen (also jumping) is well-known all over the country. The dancing song, however, is mainly performed in Northern Estonia and in Mulgimaa. There are no precise descriptions of the Martinmen’ dance. It has probably been a magical ritual, aiming to increase fertility (as hinted by the motifs of the dancing song).
The witnessing song is only sporadic, not a regular part of the cycle and it probably evolved later. The witnessing song has developed into a long episode only in Mulgimaa, where the Martinmen ask about the quickness and good manners of the daughters in the household (elsewhere the song mainly asks about children).
With the begging song, presents are asked from the father and mother of the family, (in the songs, fish, meat, cabbage, sausages, halves of pig’s heads, beer, etc., are asked for). In Western Estonia, there is no begging song, but a special allegorical piece of prose, with which the Martin-father asks for gifts. In the spinning song of the Martin-mother cloth or thread is asked for (flax or wool may also be given). This song is known in Western and Southern Estonia.
The thanksgiving song consists of several parts. First, the Martinmen give thanks for the presents, and thereafter they address each member of the peasant household and wish them good luck with crops; to the son they wish good luck with horses, to the farm servants good luck with dogs, to the daughter-in-law good luck with children, to the daughter and maids good luck with grooms, to the mother good luck with cattle.
The leaving song is not universally known, either; it is rather sporadic. The leaving song was usually sung when exiting or when already outside; only in Southern Estonia was the song sung inside before leaving. In the leaving song, the Martinmen say goodbye to the family, wish them good luck and promise to come back next year.
The cursing song was sung when the door remained closed and the Martinmen could not get in. The curses are highly varied, and while singing this, Martinmen probably also used mockery and abuse used on other occasions. The curses involve wishes for a fire, the death of the cattle, illness of the family, etc. Most of the curses concern cattle and the related work.
Martin-songs along with the activities and prose pieces make up a full cycle, which could certainly be called a performance. The Martin-performances entail the beginning of folk drama.

Martin, Mart, MArdi, MArdo, Märten ja Märt

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