What’s this pastry cake, covered with icing with various wrapped chocolates on top, baked in the shape of the saint on horseback?
You’ll notice all the bakeries and grocery stores in Venice start displaying these colorful cakes a few days before November 11th. They can cost from 15-45 EUR depending on the size.
Basically, legend has it that in the 4th century, Saint Martin met a starving, freezing beggar at the gates of the city of Amiens. He cut his cloak in two and gave the other half to the man. That’s why St. Martin is a saint associated with the poor. It is also said that at the moment he tore his cloak, the sun came out and that is why an Indian summer here in Venice is known as an estate di San Martino. The 11th of November is the festa of this saint and traditionally the day when the novello [new] wine is opened.
How Venetians Celebrate it:
In the late afternoon, in good Venice tradition, you’ll see many little kids start parading with their parents banging on pots with a wooden spoon. They basically have a repeat of Halloween except they have to chant a certain St.Martin song (in dialect) in order to receive sweets from various shops throughout the city. The giddy kids get to beat on the pots all over town and some use the lids of two pots as cymbals, so let’s just say, it’s a noisy afternoon! The children stop in at all the shops to collect candies- a little like Halloween in the U.S. Then they eat this pastry in pieces. Imagine breaking apart a huge cookie. As you can see, each cookie has its own decorative style, but the shape is pretty much the same. Random way to celebrate it, but the kids seem to enjoy it!
Buon San Martino!