The month of November is very festive throughout Italy. This is the month in which the new wine barrels are opened and new wines are enjoyed. This is the month of the ripe chestnuts. The first half of the month is marked by the Festa di San Martino or Festival of Saint Martin. November 11 is celebrated as the St. Martin’s festival. The days around this time will be usually warm and nice and ideal for celebrations and feasts.
People in many parts of Italy celebrate this event with great gastronomic extravaganzas. The friends and relatives gather in the evenings to enjoy sumptuous dinners. Grilled pork is the main dish served. Tasting of new wine and enjoying the early chestnuts are other high lights of this celebration.
Festa di San Martino in Venice
This Festival is dedicated to St. Martin. Martin is said to be the son of a Roman guard. So naturally Martin spent his early days as a guard. But he had a fascination for Christianity. He was close to the Emperor. Young Martin was a very kind and charitable person and believed in Christ. Ultimately he got himself detached from the military with the permission of the Emperor, to get himself baptized as a Christian.
There is a legend that goes around, which justifies his sainthood. One winter Martin met a desolate old man in a pathetic condition. He was too very cold and his thread bare clothes could not protect him from the cold November weather. Martin was sorry for him b
ut had no money or warm clothes to give him. So he did the next best thing. He tore half of his own robe and offered it to the old man, which he accepted gratefully. As if the warmth of his kindness was copied by the weather, it cleared and became warm. This is called St. Martin’s summer. In the night, Christ appeared in Martin’s dream wearing his cloak and thanked him for his kindness. So to people of Italy, this explains the short period of warm weather around November 11.
In Venice children are given more importance during the festival. They roam the streets with pots and spoons making a lot of noise beating them together. They demand money and gifts from passersby and shop owners. To escape from the terrible sounds they are offered money and a special cake which is shaped like the Saint on horseback wearing his famous cloak and a sword, adorned with chocolates, sweets and other goodies. The children sing appropriate nursery rhymes in dialect.
Festa della Madonna della Salute in Venice
Ten days after St. Martin’s day, comes the feast of Our Lady of Health. This is celebrated from 1630, the time of the Venetian Republic. This celebration is a thanks-giving ceremony to Virgin Mary. It is said that the bubonic plague in 1630 and 1631 had killed the major part of the population in Venice. So the remaining population and the Doge conducted a prayer for three days and three nights. The Doge at last promised Virgin Mary a fabulous temple, if she lifts the curse from the country. The plague started to abate and within a year Venice was free of the epidemic. The Doge was good as his word and constructed the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute.
Now November 21st is the festival of Santa Maria and the Venetians make a pilgrimage to this ancient shrine to light candles and pray to her. There will be masses and rosaries conducted throughout the day. So, one can visit the shrine at any time.
A temporary wooden bridge is built across the Grand Canal linking Punta della Dogana with Santa Maria del Giglio to facilitate comfortable pilgrimage to the believers. People turn up in large numbers with candles. One set of candles will be lighted for a short time and they are put out to accommodate more candles from other people. There after these candles will be used in masses till the next year’s Festival.
If you have a plan to visit Venice, November is a good time. You get to see the deeply religious fervor of the Venetians, among other things. The traditional dishes and dresses occupy the roads to satisfy your appetite for food and tradition.
by Marina Chernyak
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