Stories, songs and roasted chestnuts – a roundup of St. Martin’s Day at the Portugal Pavilion

St. Martin’s Day is upon us and in Portugal it is the height of the Magusto, a celebration of autumn’s bounty and the ripening of both chestnuts and the year’s new wine. The Portugal Pavilion brought the joys of this autumn festival to Dubai with children’s stories, traditional songs and roasted chestnuts. 


The initiative came from a group of mothers, living in Dubai, who gathered dozens of children in the amphitheater of the Portuguese pavilion, where they heard St. Martin’s legend and celebrated the occasion along with the official mascots of Expo 2020 – Latifa and Rashid.


On or around November 11th, the Portuguese gather around bonfires and fireplaces to drink, talk, laugh, eat chestnuts, and celebrate the bountiful harvest and coming of winter. These celebrations are called Magusto (believed to come from the Latin magnus ustus or “great fire”), and traditions vary around the country.


According to the Portuguese, legend has it that on one cold day Martin was riding his horse when he came across a beggar. The man was sorely underdressed and shivering in the cold as he called out to Martin for alms. Martin had nothing to give him, so he drew his sword and cut his cloak in half to give the beggar something to keep warm. At that very moment, the clouds parted, and the sun shone for 3 days.


It is believed the miraculous change in weather was due to Martin’s act of charity, and the warm, clear days often seen in early November have become known in Portugal as ‘St. Martin’s Summer’. At about the same time, the chestnuts begin to ripen and the first of the year’s wine is ready to sample, as well as other alchoholic beverages made from the semi-processed grapes, such as agua-pé and jeropiga.


As we say in Portugal: É dia de São Martinho. Comem-se castanhas; prova-se o vinho!
(“It is St. Martins Day. We’ll eat chestnuts; we’ll taste the wine!”)