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Saint Martin Street Name Day
Friday, 23 October 2009 17:21
There is probably no other town in the world which celebrates the name day of its... main street. For 18 years now, in Poznan, on St. Martin’s name day – the 11th of November – a colourful pageant walks through the centre of the town along Saint Martin’s Street, and a name day festival is held in front of the castle. To make the tradition truly appropriate, charity money is raised on the day, and the townsfolk stuff themselves on the delicious “Martin’s croissants”.

The street’s name day is a party which actually carries a centuries’ long tradition. Several hundred years ago, when Poznan’s city limits were determined by the defensive walls which today surround the Old Town, the church of Saint Martin stood on a small hill to the west. As was usual back then, a village was built around the church and named after the Saint. More than 100 years ago, the ever-expanding Poznan absorbed the small settlement, but the church and its patron remained as they were. Then, right after World War II when the communists assumed control of Poland, the street’s name was changed to “Armii Czerwonej” (Red Army Street). Later, after 1989, Poznan councillors restored the name to the original, which is why the main street in Poznan is today named “Saint Martin’s Street”.

Saint Martin was, for centuries, worshiped as a patron of horses and cattle, as well as being a guardian of soldiers and the poor. Legend has it that Martin was born in Panonia, the territory of present Hungary, in the year 317. As a roman solider, he came across a beggar chilled to the bone, and feeling sorry for him, cut half his cloak with his sword and gave it to the man. This event changed his life; he became a Christian, and later, the bishop of Tours.

The traditional delicacy on St. Martin’s name day is an indulgence that has grown out of his parish – in the 19th century, certain solemn bakers from Poznan used to give away specially baked cookies in the shapes of horseshoes to the poor. Nowadays “Martin’s croissants” are an indispensible part of the holiday, and every citizen of Poznan and visitor has to taste them.

For 18 years now, since the original name of the main artery of Poznan was restored, the name day of Martin has been celebrated not only in his church, but also on the streets. In front of Saint Martin’s church, a colourful pageant gathers. The Saint himself rides on a white horse in front of the gathering. Behind him are jugglers, people in bizarre disguises walking on stilts, musicians, craftsmen, adults and children. The entire march stops after the march through the route in front of the culture house “Castle”. There the president of Poznan passes the symbolic keys to the city gate to Saint Martin, and the festival, along with the croissant stuffing, begins.

In Poland, the 11th of November is also Independence Day. During the outdoor festival organised by the ‘Zamek’ Cultural Centre, motifs from both the parades intermingle with each other. The festival, as it is every year, is started by a pageant consisting of live music and colourful outfits, as well as other interesting things such as floats and stilt-walkers.

After handing over the symbols of power over the city, Martin has his most important moment, wherein he extols the necessity of sharing goods with people in need. Every sign of solidarity with others constitutes the main message of the day.

This year, performances by children and folk music groups on the stage in front of the castle will begin at 14:45. The concert part will be marked by a performance by Ray Wilson, ex Stiltskin and Genesis frontman at 19:00. The 11th of November is a cheerful day and its end will be accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display illuminating the sky above the city (20:30).