Wednesday, November 16, 2011

St. Martin's Day Lantern Parade

Last Friday, November 11, was St. Martin's Day (Martinstag) in Germany.  This was a completely new holiday for us to celebrate and we had no idea who St. Martin was and why we should celebrate him.  In fact, now that the holiday is over, our education about St. Martin and why the German Kindergarteners love to celebrate him is still a little fuzzy, but I'll give it my best shot at explaining.

St. Martin was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and later became a monk and eventually the Bishop of Tours (whatever that means).  His is famous primarily for two things.  1) Cutting his cloak in half and giving it to a street beggar to save him from freezing to death and 2) not wanting to be a bishop so badly that he hid in a barn, but a bunch of geese made too much noise and he was discovered.  This is why Germans traditionally eat geese on St. Martin's Day, I guess, to eternally punish them for outing St. Martin's hiding spot.

I'm still not really sure why children make paper lanterns and go on a little around-the-block parade in the evening - maybe it's to symbolize the hunt for St. Martin while he was hiding in the goose barn?  Not sure. Martinstag is also the official beginning of Karneval season, so perhaps the children's parade is a precursor to the many Karneval parades in the future.  Maybe a German reader can comment on this post and clarify the reason for the parade and the lanterns.

Anyway, I was determined to take part in a Martinstag parade with Dylan, primarily so I could blog about it since I promised our readers for more frequent updates.  I didn't start out very well, though, because I completely blew the assignment to help Dylan make a lantern for his play group.  The day all the kids were supposed to finger paint their lanterns (two paper bowls that will be stapled together to make an orb) Dylan flat out refused to participate.  I guess art projects just aren't his thing.  So the teacher sent me home with the bowls and told me to get Dylan to decorate them somehow and bring them back to the next class.  Since I'm terrible at understanding German, I comprehended the "Get Dylan to decorate these" instructions, but missed the "and bring them back to the next class" part.  So when we got home, I knew the only thing Dylan was going to do with these paper bowls is wear them on his head and pretend they're hats, so I threw them away.  At the next play group, another mom asked me if Dylan's lantern was ready and I just looked at her blankly as she held up her son's two decorated bowls and then it dawned on me that I had thrown away Dylan's first-ever homework assignment.  They managed to find some surplus supplies and make a new lantern for Dylan, which he had completely destroyed along with the battery powered lantern light that I had bought him by 6pm that same night - 3 days prior to the actual Martinstag.

I still wanted to see what this parade was all about, so our local tourism office told me when the Kindergartens were having their parades, so one evening last week Dylan, Oscar and I just showed up to a random school's Martinstag parade and pretended like we were supposed to be there.  I'm pretty sure the other parents were whispering to each other:
"Who's that lady over there?  Why doesn't her kid have an elaborately decorated lantern like ours?  Is her son in your kid's class? No?  Mine either. That's really creepy to show up at a nighttime children's parade at a school where your kid doesn't even attend.  Let's move over here and get away from her."
The parade wasn't all that exciting.  There was a high school kid dressed in a red cape wearing a silver helmet who was supposed to be St. Martin, and there was a brass band that played music while all the kids and parents sang songs about lanterns. We then took a very cold walk around the neighborhood and when we got back to the school all the kids and parents went inside for refreshments.   I was tempted to crash the refreshment party too, but since I had Oscar with me I thought it would be better to just go home.  Here are some photos:

Here is Dylan eating pretzels in his stroller watching all the kids with their lanterns.

Everyone getting ready for the parade.

St. Martin in the red cape.

Parade of lanterns.


Anonymous said...

I know it's the completely wrong season for a comment on St. Martin but I just happened to read some of your older posts (all very interesting!).

Hope my English is good enough to explain....

The lantern march on St. Martin is a relic(t) of older (medieval) rites held [or is 'cherished' the right word?] in late autumn (fall).
After dusk people - adults, not children - walked around the village und through the fields with lanterns or torches.
All meadows and fields that were hit by the light were believed to get exceedingly fertile.

Dana said...

Thank you so much for sharing that! We really had no idea what the purpose of the lantern march was.