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Sankt Martin

If you should ever get the chance to visit the area in Germany where I grew up, you will notice one thing upon entering one of these small communities. As you drive into a small town you will notice a distinct feature on the horizon: two church steeples, one belonging to the Catholic church – the other to a Protestant church. Animosities and downright hostilities between the followers of either religious denomination have lasted for centuries. May God forbid that a Catholic girl should ever wed a Protestant man ( or vice versa), as my mother did, for she might become an outcast in her family…Despite the fact that most Protestants do not recognize saints and may even ridicule the Catholic practice of saint worship, there is one celebration in November they will not shun! On the evening of November 11, you will find Protestant and Catholic children alike going on lantern walks at night to celebrate the life of Sankt Martinus.
According to legend, St. Martin started out as a Roman soldier, was baptized as an adult, and became a monk. “It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised he has clothed me.” (quoted form Wikipedia)

Most of the lanterns the children carry they craft lovingly at home or in art class at school. The lanterns are usually made of paper with beautiful cut-out designs that look like the lead glass windows of a church. The lanterns are attached with wire to the end of a dowel. Little tea-lights are used to make them glow in the dark. The children walk from their houses and meet at the market place, or the school building. From there they follow a rider on a white horse, dressed like a Roman soldier, marching towards the outskirts of town. While walking the children sing songs about St. Martin and songs about their lanterns. The destination of their march is a huge bonfire. The children gather around the bonfire. After a dramatic reenactment of the most famous scene from St. Martin’s life, cutting his coat in half and sharing it with the beggar, all children receive a sweet treat. Each child gets handed a figure made of a yeasty bread dough with raisins for eyes.

I so loved this tradition as a child. There was always such a wonderful sense of community in this celebration. What better way to celebrate simple acts of human kindness?

Wishing you lots of light, human warmth and kindness for this season!


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Trip Down Memory Lane…

October is a hard month for me. I love the fall season so much because it reminds me of Germany. Finally – a spell of cold – after a long hot summer. The falling leaves of the oak trees in front of my house serve as a reminder of the changing season.
Who would have thought I’d ever miss the rain and cold, the overcast days, and the ever shorter dark days in Germany?

October is a special time in the little communities where I grew up. I was raised in the Rhineland-Palatinate or Rheinland-Pfalz, if you would like to try to pronounce that. It is a famous wine growing region in the West of Germany.

This time of year , as a child, I would be helping with the grape harvest. Even young children would participate. Once you were old enough to hold the clippers for cutting grapes, you’d go out and help. I remember my infant sister being carried in around the vineyard in her bassinet. Every helper would receive a bucket and a pair of clippers You’d be assigned a partner and a row of grape vines to harvest from together. It was hard work. Often we would work in pouring rain. Filling our buckets with grapes, over and over again. Once your bucket was full, you would call out for the “Legelträger,” a person carrying a special bigger bucket strapped to his back, and empty your grapes into the receptacle as he would kneel down in front of you. He then would empty his bucket into a giant green vat. And when that was full, we would all be called on to jump into the vat and mash down the grapes to make space for more grapes.

My husband always jokes about it. He says the only reason I survived was because of my long legs.
It was a pretty sticky business. By the end of the day, you’d be tired and covered in grape juice and have grape leaves stuck in your hair. The smell of the harvest would penetrate deeply into your skin. But the hard labor would be rewarded with a small sum of money – which seemed huge for me as a child.
Now that I am older I fondly remember those days spent outdoors, working and playing in the vineyards.
Some people say that children in the modern world have lost touch with nature. They spend most of their time in front of TV and computer screens. I recently read an article which claimed that the average American child spends between 4-6 hours in front of a screen of one sort or another (Nintendo, other handheld games, Wii) . The article also stated that many children are losing touch with nature because of it.
Why care about the environment if you never spent time outdoors?
I wonder if things have changed in Germany and my memories are just that. Memories. Maybe the modern German child does not participate in the grape harvest. My sisters don’t live that region any more. Maybe machines do all the work now…
I guess what I am trying to say here is: It is important to teach children a connection to nature!” It is so important to play and to work with them outdoors! I am convinced that I would be a very different person if I had not spent so much time surrounded by the soft rolling hills of the German country side where I grew up.
Have a wonderful week! And remember to turn that computer or TV off, and send the kids outside to rake some leaves with you!
Love, Ulla