November is a dark, cold, rainy month. For me, it is the start of winter and the start of the long wait until decent weather.
However, November does have two bird-based holidays that I very much enjoy. Actually, I over-enjoy them. One is the perfect way to taste and experience the Czech Republic on several levels. The other is one of the few things that I miss about America.
St. Martin’s Day on Sunday — Nov. 11
The Czech Republic is known for heavy food and St. Martin’s Day is when one of the heaviest meals is served: roast goose with dumplings and cabbage.
If you haven’t had it, try it. Many restaurants are offering special menus and it is not too late to make reservations. Beware: the meal will fill you to the point of bursting.
Make sure to drink some wine with your meal. Svatomartinské víno is St. Martin’s wine. It is wine that has aged only a few weeks and it generally has a fruity taste. The French call it Beaujolais Nouveau. Regardless of the name, the wine helps the food go down and it warms the soul on what is usually a chilly autumn night.
Namesti Svobody will have a large public degustation with dozens of types of St. Martin’s wines. The ceremonial opening of the first bottles will be at 11 a.m. Click here for more information. For more general information about St. Martin’s Day wine, click here.
The day is named for Saint Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and later became a monk. He once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm. St. Martin is also known for hiding among geese to avoid being elevated to bishop. The geese cackled and he was discovered. Now we eat them as part of his celebration.
St. Martin’s Day also happens to be notable for several other reasons:
- On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 100 years ago in 1918, World War I ended. The day is celebrated as Armistice Day in many countries in the world.
- The date shorthand is “11/11”. The 1s represent individual people and the day is known as “Singles Day” in China. It has become a huge day for shopping.
- It is the day that snow is supposed to come. Locals say “Martin přijíždí na bílém koni”, which translates to ‘Martin is coming riding a white horse’.
Thanksgiving Day on the Fourth Thursday of November — Nov. 22
A bit later in the month, there is the holiday that I grew up with: Thanksgiving.
I joke with my students that Thanksgiving Day is the best day of the year, for American men that is: Sleep in to around 9:30 a.m.; say “Good Morning” to mom or the wife when you visit the kitchen for breakfast; move to the couch to watch the morning American Football game; tell mom or the wife that the food smells great when you visit the kitchen for a snack; return to the couch for the afternoon football game; when mom or the wife are done with dinner, go to the dinner table and eat, eat, eat, eat; stay as long as socially necessary, then tell mom or the wife the food was great and roll to the couch for the evening football game. What’s better than that?
It is, of course, very different for the mom or wife point view: wake early to put the turkey in the oven; stay in the kitchen all day to prepare the side dishes; occasionally see the male members of the family throughout the day; finally sit down with the whole family to eat, eat, eat, eat; then wash the dishes.
Actually, these are slight exaggerations, but it is quite close to reality.
Thanksgiving celebrates the founding of America and the arrival of the Pilgrims from England, specifically the first tough winter of 1620 and the first harvest of 1621. It became a national holiday during the Civil War when the President Abraham Lincoln tried to use the country’s shared origin story to bring the warring sides together. It didn’t work to stop the Civil War, but in many ways, it is a communal and peaceful holiday. It is not as infused with religion as Christmas and Easter tend to be, so Thanksgiving is often a non-denominational and peaceful meal (until talk of politics starts).
In my 12-plus years in Brno, my expat friends and I have often tried to recreate that communal feeling. Finding the proper turkey used to be the main problem. Sometimes we had to have just turkey thighs. Turkey is not foreign to the Czech Republic, but the frozen ball of meat that is so common in the United States was not easy to find. Now, Tesco, Makro and other supermarkets have them, and more people have begun to experiment with having a roast turkey with stuffing.
If you’re one to experiment in the kitchen, you could do a lot worse than roasting a goose for St. Martin’s Day or a turkey for Thanksgiving Day. They are actually easy to cook.
Just make sure to pace yourself: both are really easy to overeat.