St Martin’s Day (Dia de São Martinho) is an autumn festival which coincides with the ripening of the chestnuts and the production of the new wine. St Martin was a soldier who lived in the fourth century and in a famous legend it is said that when he was returning home one day during a terrible storm he came across a beggar who was suffering in the harsh weather. Martin took off his cape, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. At that moment the storm abated and the sun came out. Martin left the army, became a monk and later the Bishop of Tours, and was ultimately canonized. St Martin’s Day is celebrated on 11th November and often on this date the weather is unseasonably warm and sunny; this is known as o verão de São Martinho (St Martin’s summer). The Portuguese celebrate this day by having a magusto. The magusto varies from region to region, but always involves socializing while eating roast chestnuts and drinking água-pé, jeropiga or the new wine of that year. Água-pé (pomace wine) is a low-alcohol wine made from the pomace (pé) of grape skins, seeds and pulp (left after the juice has been extracted), which has water (água) added to it and is then fermented. Jeropiga is a sweet fortified wine made with grape juice to which a grape spirit (aguardente) is added. In rural areas the villagers gather around a bonfire in which the chestnuts are roasted (the word ‘magusto’ is thought to come from the Latin ‘magnus’ meaning ‘big’ and ‘ustus’ meaning ‘burnt’). Some people rub the ashes from the bonfire on their faces, a custom which may date back to pagan times where it was believed that the ashes would ward off evil spirits. In more urban areas the bonfire is replaced with the ubiquitous roast-chestnut vendors. There are often stalls selling regional produce, sometimes there is a pig roast, accompanied by music and dancing.
As the Portuguese saying goes, ‘Água-pé, jeropiga, castanhas e vinho, faz-se uma boa festa pelo São Martinho.’ (‘Água-pé, jeropiga, chestnuts and wine, make a good party for St Martin.’)