Magusto is a traditional popular celebration taking place on November 11, St. Martin’s Day. It is a celebration of FALL and the expected arrival of Christmas season. It is also the day the new wine is tasted, hence the saying: “No dia de S. Martinho vai-se à adega e prova-se vinho.” (on St. Martin’s Day we go to the cellar and taste the wine.) People celebrate this time by opening the new wine, or drinking Jeropiga (a strong sweet traditional Portuguese liqueur made from a mixture of firewater, sugar and grape juice from the must (crushed grapes) or água-pé (a weak watered down wine – water added to the juice from the must and fermented for a few days – this is no longer sold in supermarkets, but can still be found in local village stores) and eating chestnuts roasted under the embers of a bonfire. People put ashes from the fire on their faces, sing around the fire, tell jokes, share legends etc.
Around this time of the year, in Portugal, there is usually a reprieve of Winter weather – known as St. Martin’s Summer. The legend that gave its name to this period of time says that on a rainy day, a Roman knight (later known as St Martin of Tours) rode by an almost naked beggar and as he had no other clothes to give this poor man, he cut his cape in half to share it with the beggar. The moment he did this, the weather cleared up and the sun came out resembling a beautiful summer day. This legend is depicted by several artists, including El Greco.
Tomorrow I will be roasting some chestnuts and opening a bottle of Portuguese wine – it is not the same, but I try to keep the Portuguese traditions alive and pass them on to my daughter.