Martinstag - Tradition and Legends

Saint Martin's Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Martin or Martinstag, is celebrated on November 11th each year. Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and became a bishop. The day is not a public holiday, but is very popular and celebrated by children with reenactments, bonfires, and lantern processions. The day is all about modesty and altruism.

The Legend

Saint Martin was baptized into the church at age 18. Once, while on horseback in Amiens in Gaul (modern France), he encountered a beggar. The beggar was outside the village gates, on the ground, freezing from a snow storm. Saint Martin, having nothing to give but the clothes on his back, cut his heavy cloak in half, and gave it to the beggar. That night, Saint Martin dreamed of Jesus, wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me."

Traditions

During the time leading up to November 11th, many children will build their own lanterns either on their own or through their Kindergarten. The lantern processions, Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge, take place in towns and cities all over Germany. They are often led by a man dressed as Saint Martin, including a sword and cloak upon a horse. The children walk behind with their lanterns while singing traditional songs. In our village, we typically also have the fire department walk along with torches and the village decorates their yards with candles and lights. At the end of the procession people gather around a large bonfire to sing songs dedicated to St. Martin, eat sweet pastries and drink Glühwein. Many Germans celebrate St. Martin's Day with a festive meal where roasted goose is traditionally served as the main course. In our villages the children recieve a bag of goodies from Saint Martin after the parade, which is full of chocolates, sweet fruit and bread. The children are instructed to choose two pieces from their bags and bring them to their Kindergarten the following Monday. The school then takes the sweets and donates them.

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