Sunday, November 11, 2012

St. Martin's Day

November 11 is St. Martin's Day, and it is a beloved festival in most of Germany. Children can be seen everywhere in the days before and after walking around after sunset with their beautiful, handmade lanterns. 

These are my children's Martin lanterns that they made
this year at school.
We became acquainted with this holiday after coming to Germany. Secular or religious, almost everyone finds something valuable in the story of Martin of Tours.  Martin was a soldier in the Holy Roman Empire who came upon a beggar one cold, winter day in front of the city gate of Amiens. The beggar was poorly dressed and freezing. In medieval times, most people thought that the poor were either cursed or had done something terrible to deserve their plight and were largely ignored by the general population. Martin did something that was completely revolutionary for the time: he took his warm soldier's coat, cut it in half with his sword, and gave it to the freezing man. 

That evening Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ saying to him, "What you did for my brother, you did for me." Afterwards, Martin was baptized and later devoted his life to helping the poor. 

Today, we tell the story to children and emphasize the importance of sharing and taking care of the poor. Kindergartens, churches and schools organize Martin festivals with lantern parades. The sea of lights in the first dark days of autumn are breathtaking. 

The children also sing special Martin's songs. You can find the words to the most famous ones, "St. Martin's Song", here,  and "I go with my Lantern", here. (For the melody click here and here.) 

At the neighborhood Martin's festival this year put on by our local Lutheran church, we were treated to a "Schattenspiel" (shadow play) of Martin's life.

St. Martin encounters the beggar at the city gate.

People bake Martin's rolls and bring them to church to break in half and share with one another. 

Sharing "Martinsbrötchen", crescent-shaped
Martin's rolls.
It is also traditional to have a visit from a live "St. Martin" with horse. 

I'd also like to share an illustration with you from the story, drawn by my friend, the artist Lilian Mousli. (Please do not reproduce it any way as it is copyrighted.)

If  any of you have St. Martin's traditions, please share your links in the comments!

Happy St. Martin's Day!

Linked to Waldorf Wednesday at Seasons of Joy

and Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions

and Grünzeug at Naturkinder


  1. So fun to see your kids' lanterns! We miss celebrating St. Martin's Day in that way here (parades and such). Thanks for the reminder--I can reminisce with the girls tomorrow.

  2. Thanks for sharing your day. I haven't read anywhere else about the medieval perspective on the poor, nor on the breaking and sharing of the rolls. We'll incorporate that here.

    We haven't done our Martin's Day Celebration yet. We were going to and then decided that it would be a nice way to share a Christian story with pagan friends and decided to make it an open invitation. I hope that it goes well (: Pray for our efforts!

    Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Be sure to post about your celebration! Would love to read about your family traditions.

  3. So many great ideas here! I love the shadow play and the rolls are wonderful.