Remembrance Day was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. – on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Veteran’s Day is an official United States holiday that is observed on November 11 and honors people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
St. Martin of Tours feast day is November 11 and he is the patron saint of soldiers so it is only fitting that Veteran’s Day is also celebrated on his feast day. The feast of St. Martin is also called “Martinmas Day’.
St. Martin was born in what is now Hungary of pagan parents around the year 316. He was the son of a man who served in the Roman Army and the rule in those days was that if your father had served in the army you had to join the army too. He became a Christian catechumen against his parents’ wishes. When he was 15 his father forced him to enroll in the army.
One good thing about being a soldier was that you were given a warm woolen cloak to wear in the cold weather. One of the most famous stories about Martin has to do with that cloak. On a bitter cold day, St. Martin was on horseback and met a beggar shivering and freezing. He slashed his cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. That night, he saw a vision of Our Lord clothed in the half cloak and heard Him say to the angels, “Martin, yet a catechumen, hath wrapped Me in this garment.” Shortly afterward, Martin was baptized. He is also the patron of horsemen and tailors.
He was a soldier who was brave enough, but refused to go out and kill. One day, just before a battle, Martin announced that his faith did not allow him to fight. They called him a coward and put him in jail. The emperor gave orders that he be forced into battle at sword’s point and Martin prayed all night in his cell. Before battle the next morning, the enemy surrendered and there was no need for a fight.
Martin did not want to be a soldier for the Roman army. He wanted to be a soldier for Christ. He withdrew from the Roman army and was ordained to the priesthood. For the rest of his life, Martin fought many battles – not military, but other kinds. He struggled to keep people from following the wrong ideas of the Arians, who taught that Jesus Christ was not really the eternal God. Because of his strong opposition to the Arian heretics in various cities, Martin had to go into exile but he was happy to live in the wilderness with the other monks so he established monasteries. The best-known one was on a cliff by the Loire River. He and the monks lived in that remote place in wooden huts or caves carved from the rock.
Martin was the spiritual student of Saint Hilary at Poitiers, France. The people of Tours asked for Martin as their bishop and he was made bishop (against his will). As bishop of Tours, he did all he could to make the people of France give up their unbelief in Jesus. He prayed, worked and preached everywhere.
There are so many great ways to celebrate this day:
- read about St. Martin.
- Recite the Iste Confessor in honor of St. Martin
- give winter clothing to the poor.
- make Martinshornchen (St. Martin’s Day croissants). The simpler version is right up my alley – pick up a package of crescent roll dough, prepare according to package directions, brush with egg yolks. sprinkle with course sugar and bake accordingly.
- make Horseshoe Cookies – In Poland, cookies shaped like horseshoes were baked to remember St. Martin’s snow-white horse, on which he “comes riding through the snow” when one least expects him.
- make or decorate lanterns to symbolize the light of holiness. Just as St. Martin brought light to those who lived in dark times, so too do the lanterns light up the dark night. In many parts of Europe, children honor St. Martin’s Day by walking out in the evening with big paper lanterns.
- make St. Martin Bags – In Malta, children are given bags filled with treats.
- have a bonfire.
- have a glass of wine! St. Martin is the patron of vintners, wine growers and wine makers so his feast day was the day of the wine harvest. In France, the tasting of the new wine is done today