In Poland, November 11th is not only Independence Day, but it’s Saint Martin’s Day! This day is recognized in many countries around the world, but if you want to find the true celebrations in Poland, the city of Poznań is your place!
Who was Saint Martin anyway?
Saint Martin, also known as Martin of Tours, was once one of the most popular Catholic saints. He was the patron saint of many things including children, innkeepers, hat makers, blacksmiths and more. He was born in modern day Hungary in the 4th century and was raised in Italy where he was a member of the Roman army.
Legends say that he was stationed in France during the winter when he was 18. One night he came across a cold beggar with whom he shared his cloak. That night Martin dreamt that Jesus was wearing the other half of the cloak. After this moment he decided to be baptized.
Rogale Świętojańskie (By MOs810 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Why are the celebrations so big in Poznań?
Saint Martin’s Day has been celebrated in Poznań since the Middle Ages. The celebrations are colorful and fun and feature the famous pastry, the rogal świętomarciński aka Saint Martin Croissant.
The festivities begin after Mass with a parade that travels down Saint Martin's Street in the center of the city. At the front of the parade is “Saint Martin” who is dressed in a Roman legionnaire’s costume and seated upon a horse. The parade begins at St. Martin’s Church and continues on to the Royal Castle where it ends with a fair and other entertainment.
People travel from near and far to take part in the lively events that last late into the evening. Events include jousting knights, live musical performances, and other events inside the castle, concluding with a large firework show.
What is a rogal świętomarciński?
A rogal świętomarciński, otherwise known in English as a Saint Martin Croissant, is a croissant filled with almond paste and white poppy seeds.
The legend of this traditional pastry dates back to a centuries-old story about a baker from Poznań who dreamt that Saint Martin entered the city upon a white horse that had lost its golden horseshoe. The following morning, the baker created horseshoe shaped croissants that were filled with almonds, white poppy seeds and nuts, which he then distributed to the poor around the city.
Another legend says that the tradition began in 1891, when the priest of St. Martin’s Church asked the church members to help the poor as cold weather approached. One parishioner by the name of Józef Melzer prayed to Saint Martin for ideas. He was inspired to bake a pastry in the shape of the horseshoe that was lost by the horse who carried Saint Martin in a parade.
Rogale Świętojańskie By MOs810 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Since 2008, Saint Martin Croissants have been listed as a protected food by the European Union. An authentic rogal świętomarciński, must be made in the city of Poznań and only by trained and certified bakers. A bakery must get an official certificate prior to selling these delicacies.
According to the traditional recipe, the croissant must be made with white poppy seeds, sugar, butter, eggs, almonds and other nuts, crumbled biscuit, raisins, and candied orange peel. By law, the croissant must be at least 250 grams (more than half a pound!).
Each year the Poznań Pastry Chefs and Bakers Guild hosts a yearly certification of the pastry and only those who meet the strict requirements are able to obtain this certification. In 2012, 98 bakeries in the region were able to obtain this title. Many bakeries have a sign in the window showing that they are certified and in compliance with making authentic Saint Martin Croissants.
If you aren’t able to make it to Poznań for Saint Martin’s Day, not to worry, you can still find the traditional Saint Martin Croissant for sale year round in local bakeries around Poznań.
Rogal Świętojański (By Rzuwig - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)
There is another story that claims that the legend of the Saint Martin Croissant actually dates back to pagan times. It is said that during the autumn season, the gods were offered oxen as a sacrifice. Instead of actually slaughtering oxen, people made rolled up dough in the shape of oxen horns.
When the Latin Church came to power, they took over the idea of the croissant and connected it with Saint Martin. Instead of the dough being the shape of oxen horns, it was now said to be the shape of the horseshoe that the holy horse had lost.
Rogale Świętojańskie (By Rzuwig - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Croissant Museum in Poznań
The Croissant Museum in Poznań (known in Polish as the Rogalowe Museum Poznania), is more of an experience than a museum. This modern museum is set inside a newly restored renaissance home. At the museum, guests participate in a hands on interactive baking session where they learn all about the history of Saint Martin, Poznań, and the famous croissants. At the end of your tour, you will have a chance to taste the delicious pastry and receive a certificate that states you made the legally protected croissant yourself!
- Make sure to book your tickets in advance as there are limited entry times and availability.
- The museum is closed on Mondays and other public holidays.
- Also, be sure to find the directions ahead of time as the entrance is hidden on a side street.
Read more about Polish holidays here!
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