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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!


11 thoughts on “Sankt Martin

  1. Thank-you so much for sharing that. We have a lantern walk at our children’s school every year but it wasn’t something I ever did as a child.

  2. We do this in our village. Even the local musik band (“drumband and Fanfare”) walk along, making nice musik. My girls are always exited, to meet all their friends in the dark. Last year we’ve sealed some leaves in and folded it so an (electric) light can go in. I’ve used real candles, but children kept running, the candle melt, the lantern moves and the melted candle goes over the flame……. Get the pic?
    Great fun to walk along though!

  3. Such a lovely tradition. Thanks for writing about it Ulla.

  4. what a beautiful tradition

  5. This is where I read this article first. It’s a wonderful article. I wish we could start a lantern walk out here in rural maine…

  6. I wonder where you live viltk? I’d love to see your towns lantern walk and bring my kids!
    Thanks for all the nice comments!

  7. I remember a lantern walk in Switzerland when I lived there, it was so lovely!

  8. Love this story, thanks for sharing!

  9. I put a little tutorial for making balloon lanterns on my blog as well as the music to a couple of favorite songs. Martinmas is a favorite festival for me.

  10. Thanks sarah! I’ll check it out! I will post a recipe for the bread man next Wednesday! So stay tuned!

  11. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories of this day! We’re going to celebrate it for the first time this yr and I can’t wait. It seems to be such a beautiful and meaningful festival.

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