• 2020.12.09
  • St. Martin’s Day
November 11 is the Day of Saint Martin, or São Martinho in Portuguese.
It heralds the transition of summer into fall, complete with the smells of roasting chestnuts.

The legend of Saint Martin usually goes something like this. The soldier Saint Martin was returning home in a snowstorm when he noticed a beggar freezing in the cold. He cut his cloak in two and gave a half to the beggar.
That night, as Saint Martin slept, Jesus appeared to him in a dream, wrapped in half of Saint Martin’s cloak, and thanked him for his kindness. The story goes that the beggar in the snow was actually Jesus himself.

The Portuguese version, however, is a little different.
The warrior São Martinho was on his way home in a storm. On the way, he met a beggar seeking charity. Since he had nothing to give, he took the cloak that was keeping him warm off of his back and cut it with his sword—giving half to the beggar. At that moment, the storm instantly stopped and the brilliant sun started shining down.

The first thing they changed was the snow into a storm, which is probably because it doesn’t snow in Portugal. The part where the storm stops and it gets warm might have been because we still have warm, summerlike days during this time of year. In fact, people commonly refer to our lovely fall weather days as “the São Martinho summer”.

The Portuguese have a tradition of eating chestnuts on St. Martin’s Day. There’s even a chestnut festival called Magusto where people build huge wood fires, roast chestnuts over them, and eat them.
Chestnuts are also a sign of autumn in Japan, and Portugal is the same in that you can find them everywhere this time of year. The Magusto festival of course comes from the fact that it’s the time of the chestnut harvest, but it’s also said to have started as a way to feed the spirits of the family ancestors that appear on All Saints’ Day on November 1.

The Portuguese typically roast chestnuts by first putting slits in them and then placing them in a pot with lots of holes in the bottom, along with some salt. They then place the pots on a stove or over charcoal and roast the nuts. Once they’re ready, they enjoy them with a wine-like beverage called água-pé—which, strangely, means “foot water”.

This time of year is right around the day when the new wine is ready to be enjoyed, so água-pé is an alcoholic beverage that was developed by adding liquor to the grape pomace left over after pressing it for wine. The name água-pé, therefore, probably comes from the fact that it’s made by stomping the wine with the feet. It’s not like it tastes like feet or anything. But personally, I find it hard to like because I can’t help experiencing a kind of aftertaste like dirty socks when I drink it.
Maybe it will turn into a subtle savoriness if I drink it while eating chestnuts… I’ll have to try it again next year and see.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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