Martinigansl: What is it?

Come the end of the harvest season signposts throughout the Austrian countryside begin to advertise the “Martinigansl” or “Martinsganslessen”, the St. Martin’s Day goose dinner and celebration. Plans are made, reservations are set. This particular celebration is by no means a tourist attraction, it is a regional tradition that families have been partaking in for generations. But where does it come from?

The Tradition

I was told this story when I was still in primary school, the celebration is important for kids because they are the ones who build and paint the paper lanterns which will be walked on St. Martin’s Eve. They work on them for weeks beforehand while learning specific songs and hoping that the night won’t be too windy or rainy.

On the day, the groups from kindergartens and primary classes gather with their parents in the early evening but after dark. A procession follows, and the lanterns are lit (in my day with candles that needed constant relighting which was part of the fun, but as I have seen from my own children, there is nowadays an increasing number of special LED-lit lantern-inserts. This irritates me for some reason). The songs are pretty and the lyrics mild. A lovely time for all.

Of course, the celebration is based on something other than kids with lanterns. It’s a Catholic story (of course it is), with a valuable lesson for all. Here goes my version of it.

The Story

Martin of Tours was born in what is now Hungary in the 4th century. Against the will of his parents he became a Christian at a very young age, just after it had become legal in 313. Martin followed his father and joined the cavalry for the Roman Empire. As the story goes, young Martin was riding towards the city gates of Amiens in his cavalry uniform one day when he came across a beggar at the side of the road. It was cold and the man was clearly freezing. So Martin did the only thing he could think of; he swung off his horse, whipped off his long cape and sliced it in two, giving one half to the beggar.

So he was good man (for the Church, for everyone else maybe not so much), this Martin, and he went on to become a monk and convert many people, including his own mother. He had an enthusiastic following, but remained humble and quiet, not seeking the attention of others. In fact, he was so insistent that he did not want any higher offices that he had to be tricked into traveling to Tours so he could be *surprise!* made a bishop. But Martin didn’t want to be a bishop, so he hid in a barn with some geese, but they squawked, the others found him, and he was anointed. So now we eat the damn birds to celebrate, on the day of his death in 397. His body was transferred to Tours (he preferred to live upstream in a house of his own) by boat, accompanied by smaller rafts bearing candles, and that’s were we get the whole bit about lanterns.

The Food

There are all sorts of rituals around Europe surrounding this day, it was also the day on which the new vintage could be tasted (around the Neusiedlersee this tradition still exists, it is called the “Martiniloben”). Additionally, it is the start of the Advent, a time for fasting. So eat the fattened goose before the stringent lifestyle of winter sets upon you.
I highly recommend partaking in Martiniganslessen, whether you make it yourself at home and invite friends over, or make a reservation at one of the local restaurants or Heuriger. It will most likely be served with red cabbage and bread dumplings, so what to drink, what to drink? In honour of the Martiniloben of northern Burgenland, we have three weight classes to recommend pairing with your delicious meal!

Lightweight

For a light and bright red, we recommend Michael Opitz’s Zweigelt “Casual”. The bright berry tones will complement the fattiness of the goose, and bring a little acidity to rich dishes.

Heavyweight

The Heideboden 2014 from Erich Sattler is rich and delicious, with the same notes of dark cherries and warm spices that you will find in the red cabbage side.

A different approach

For something totally different, why not try the Leithaberg DAC Grüner Veltliner 2014 from the Sommer Winery? It brings crisp acidity and citrus notes that will cut through the fat and keep you from dozing off after your heavy meal!

I’m off to make my reservation now, this article has me hungry.

Cheers!
Sarah

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