If there’s one thing you need to know about Croatian people, it’s that we love our wine.
How could we not? Miles of vineyards adorn every Croatian region, bringing fruitful grapes turned into the most delicious wine sorts.
Decked it colourful autumn colours, November is a favourite time for wine lovers in Croatia as that is when Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated. And where else to celebrate the day than in the fairytale region of Međimurje!
How the tradition came to be
St Martin’s Day is celebrated on the 11th of November. The day marks the end of the autumn wheat seeding, the annual slaughter of cattle and the day before Advent fasting.
In Croatia Martinje marks the day when young wine, or must, matures into wine fit for drinking. But before indulging in the delicious tastes of traditional Croatian wine, it first needs to be baptized and turned into chaste wine, since must is considered impure.
The tradition was assumed in northern Croatia in the 17th century, but it actually dates back to the ancient Roman times when the saint the day was named after used to live.
St Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity in his adult age and became a priest. He was known for his good nature and a kind heart. However, he also nurtured immense love for wine and started baptizing the beverage in order to make it more popular among laypeople.
There is an amusing anecdote regarding the day St Martin was to be ordained as a bishop. Because he did not believe such honour should be given to him, he hid in a goose pen. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by the cackling of geese. That is why today goose and other poultry are traditionally consumed on St Martin’s Day.
The wine-baptizing tradition originated in France and later spread to other parts of Europe, such as Germany, England, Austria and Eastern Europe. Each country has their own specific ways of celebrating the day – and so does Croatia.
Martinje in Međimurje
The custom goes something like this.
Cheerful wine lovers gather in vineyards, family held taverns or other places with a homely atmosphere in mid November. The celebrations often start a few days before the 11th of November and last for a few days.
The ritual is performed by a person dressed up as a bishop who blesses the wine, most commonly the host. Other people are chosen to take the roles of judge and the godmother and the godfather of wine.
The delicious wine is coupled with a fine meal, most often consisting of a goose and traditional Croatian homemade pasta known as mlinci.
Nestling among the abundant hills, the Međimurje wine road is one of the best places to indulge in this traditional Croatian practice.
Numerous venues offer baptizing ceremonies coupled with fun programs. In addition to tasting the young wine, visitors are offered roasted chestnuts, traditional pastries, homemade cheese, wine goulash, brandy and more homemade produced goodness.
Petit Međimurje villages bring out the best during the St Martin’s celebrations. Best wine goulash competitions are held; the best local performers sing and dance their hearts out and merry locals are spoiled with free wine tastings amidst the aroma of homemade delicacies and freshly roasted chestnuts.
Beyond wine drinking
It may seem at first that the wine holiday is merely an excuse to indulge in this intoxicating beverage. However, Martinje is much more than that.
It is a time when best friends and families get together to celebrate the year’s hard work and toast to many successful years waiting ahead. It is the time when traditional songs are sung and when simpler times are remembered. It is the time for devoted Christians to feast one last time before they abstain from heavy foods and drinks before Christmas.
It is the time to enjoy the fine things in life with your close ones. And if there’s one thing Croatian people enjoy doing, it’s having fun.
Let the wine celebrations begin!
Photo credit: Pixabay, Medjimurje Tourist Board
Learn more about the favourite Croatian hobby – wine drinking!