Dates for assembly

7th November 2003 at 00:00
November 11: Martinmas

Centuries before this date became Remembrance Day, it was a feast day in honour of St Martin.

Outline script for assembly leader

For the Anglo-Saxons, this was the time of year for killing the pigs, sheep and cattle it would too expensive to feed and house during the cold winter months. The best meat was salted or pickled to preserve it. Sides of beef and bacon were hung in chimneys and smoked so they too would keep longer.

But what did you do with the rest of the meat, the offal?

The answer was have a feast, especially as the new season's beer was ready for drinking. Popular seasonal sports included pig-baiting, cock-fighting and wrestling. But as Christianity spread through northern Europe, pagan festivals such as this were "Christianised" and this one became the Feast of St Martin.

Martin was born around the year 316, was brought up in Italy and at the age of 15, joined the Roman army. At 18, he was made an officer and posted to Amiens in France. One damp winter's evening he was riding through the town, his soldiers marching behind him. Meeting a half-naked beggar, Martin stopped and cut his red officer's cloak in two, giving one half to the beggar (pictured).

That night, Martin dreamed he saw Jesus wearing half his cloak. He became a Christian, refused to continue fighting, was imprisoned and discharged from the army. In 371, he became Bishop of Tours. One tradition states he was crushed by a mill wheel.

Accordingly, in Ireland and the Scottish Western Isles, it became the custom that "No woman should spin on that day; no miller should grind his corn, and no wheel should be turned."

Follow up

Some children's grandparents may remember getting their first fridge. How did we manage before fridges were available? Without them, what would we miss most today?

This date is Remembrance Day because the First World War ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Discuss how it is appropriate that that day should have been St Martin's Day.

A full biography of Martin is available in the Catholic Encyclopedia cathen09732b.htm St Martin's day is a children's festival in Germany. Details, including a simple German song, can be found at www.funsocialstudies.learninghaven.comarticlesstmartins

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today