Above All, It’s The Day To “Go To Eleven”

So many holidays on one day.

First, today is St. Martin’s Day or Martini. In many regions of Austria and southern Germany there are processions of children with paper lanterns. In some areas they go door to door singing traditional St. Martin’s Day songs in exchange for sweets. In Austria the new wine vintage is blessed. There is no connection to the popular cocktail, however I’m sure someone, somewhere has lifted his martini glass in observance of the holiday.

For a while in the middle ages, November 11 marked the beginning of 40 days of fasting. It was also known to be the last day of contracts, feudal fees, and tithing. It makes sense that a major transaction day would take place after the harvest was settled and before the winter came. People sometimes paid their feudal fees or tithes with geese at this time of year — one could only feed so many animals through the winter, so it was a convenient custom, and so the traditional feast of roast goose on Martini was born. Now, it’s the beginning of Fastnacht, or Fasching, or Carnival, “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, but it’s a custom to have goose with red cabbage and dumplings on this day.(Update: I have learned from my friend Prior Aelred that St. Martin’s Day still “marks the traditional beginning of the monastic winter fast.” The good Prior managed to combine holidays by feasting at the local pizzeria and getting the Veteran’s Discount to boot.)

As I mentioned earlier, in some parts of Germany a fur-clad figure called the Pelzmärtel brings gifts on November 11th. From a cursory look through google images I think he bears a distinct resemblance to Santa, who of course also wears fur.

In the United States November 11 is Veterans Day, and in Commonwealth countries it is Remembrance Day, to commemorate the German signing of the Armistice “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, thus bringing an end to the First World War. Germany does not observe the Armistice, as you can well imagine (and not just because they lost the war. They’ve already got a more pleasant holiday scheduled for that exact time!), but it does have a near-situated Day of Mourning, a kind of national compromise day since the Catholics and the Protestants have different days for remembering their dead.

But I digress. Perhaps the most important observance of all this year, the day being 11.11.11., is Nigel Tufnel Day. Nigel Tufnel is the guitarist (played by Christopher Guest) of the fictional rock band in the cult classic “This Is Spinal Tap”, who has his amps designed to “go to 11” — and I’ll let him explain this logic himself:

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