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Light Up the Night on St. Martin's Day

Gingerbread World Blog - St. Martin's Day lanternsEach November 11 in Germany children and adults celebrate St. Martin’s Day carrying paper lanterns in the street and sharing treats. And children here in Canada celebrate this special occasion as well – especially children in German language schools.

My children attended a German-bilingual school in Winnipeg and in their early grades spent the beginning of each November creating paper lanterns. Never did they get to light them up with a real candle but there was much excitement and cutting and gluing and then parading their lanterns through the school.

There is much more to this November 11 tradition than just lanterns and the following article found in is a great explanation:

Gingerbread World Blog - St. Martin's Day LanternsWhat exactly are we celebrating?

Martinstag is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm.

What do the lanterns mean?

In many parts of Germany it is traditional for children to participate in a procession of paper lanterns in remembrance of St. Martin. They make their own little lanterns in school or kindergarten and then gather on city streets to sing songs about good old Marty and their lanterns. Often a man dressed as St. Martin with a long red cloak leads the parade on horseback.

So this is actually a big deal then?

It's officially a Catholic holiday, but in recent years the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany. So just like Santa Claus has little to do with the birth of Christ, these days St. Martin Day's is probably better known for the luminous procession than the saintly history.

So what do I do on St. Martin’s Day?

If you have kids, you’ll probably spend the evening outside with a bunch of other parents and their children. You’ll be busy relighting the tea candles in those fiddly little lanterns with cold, stiff fingers, and drying off children's tears because, as upsetting it is for the kids, paper lanterns lit by candles tend to catch fire quite quickly. Who would have thought...

Heavens! That sounds dangerous.

Well, definitely worrying for the parents, forced to prevent their little ones from accidentally setting each other on fire during the procession. But on the other hand, it wouldn’t really be a proper St. Martin’s procession without someone stamping out a flaming lantern, or a sad-faced child clutching to a charred stick.

What do I do if I don’t have children? Is there anything else to it?

Like most holidays, St. Martin's Day is also about eating food. The traditional victuals are goose with red cabbage and dumplings.

Yummy! But why goose?

According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become a bishop as an honour for all his good deeds, so he hid in a stable filled with geese to escape from Church officials. Martin might have been a very kind and gentle man, but he apparently wasn’t the smartest. Otherwise he would have considered a better hiding place than a pen filled with gabbling geese - who ended up giving away his location.

And the geese had to pay for that?

Perhaps, but the more likely reason is that November 11 is the beginning of Advent fasting and hardcore Catholics get a last chance to feast before they abstain from greasy food and booze until Christmas.

And if I am not Catholic, don’t like goose and have no children?

Then you might want to huddle around one of the many Martin bonfires, eat something else or simply celebrate the beginning of carnival, as it starts on November 11 as well. 

The lanterns come in all shapes, sizes and colors and there are wonderful resources on Pinterest for making your own.

Here are links to some of our favorites:

Gingerbread World Blog - St. Martin's DayDo you celebrate St. Martin's Day? We would love to hear your stories and see your photos. Join the conversation!

Tamara Roehr
Owner of Gingerbread World

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Mame S Harlow - January 4, 2022

Last year my DIL who is of German descent was home schooling my 5 year old granddaughter and 3 year old grandson. I thought it would be fun to teach the children about St. Martin’s Day, to make lanterns and have a procession. I’m of Irish descent but I love reading about how things are done else where. The children loved making their lanterns and their procession. They have asked to do it again this year.

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