German traditions: St. Martin’s Day also looks different in 2020

German traditions: St. Martin’s Day also looks different in 2020

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Germany’s next traditional holiday destined for disruption is that of St. Martin’s Day. While not an official government holiday, the traditional activities carried out to remember a revered historical and religious figure celebrated for his compassion and generosity are particularly beloved by the younger set.

Each year on or close to Nov. 11, communities across the land organize commemorations that unfold along a similar pattern. Once darkness falls, a robed man on horseback begins his ride toward the town center or other gathering place. He’s followed by a procession of earnest children, proudly holding aloft the lanterns they’ve crafted themselves at home, at school or in kindergarten. As they go, they sing simple verses in honor of the selfless saint and their beloved lanterns:

Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne

Brenne auf mein Licht, Brenne auf mein Licht

Aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht!

 

 

 

Lantern, Lantern, Sun, Moon and Stars

Burn, my light; Burn, my light

But not my beloved lantern!

Once the procession has reached its destination, a re-enactment takes place. Martin, who at this time in his life was serving as a soldier in the Roman army, alights from his horse. With a swipe of his mighty sword, he cuts his elegant cape in two. Half of it he presents to the figure of a wretched beggar, who has been shivering pitifully in the cold.

Once the scene has played out, the children are presented with baked goodies that vary from region to region, and the gathered crowd makes its way toward a bonfire. The adults, most among them parents, typically enjoy socializing over a glass of mulled wine or two before making their way back home.

With gathering en masse and singing frowned-upon activities these days, it was inevitable that celebrations in 2020 would need to take on a different form. While parades and bonfires are off the agenda, the tradition of building and lighting lanterns as a symbol of hope in the dark of night is one whose continuation poses a threat to no one. Many towns have taken up an initiative promoted on Facebook and in other online forums in which kids and families are urged to build and hang lanterns in their windows or in front of their homes. In the evenings leading up to Nov. 11, strolls through the streets of one’s hometown will be all the more poignant for the sight of these lanterns cutting through the darkness and inspiring their beholders with hope.

Have little ones who’d be interested in building a lantern themselves? While you’ll find endless suggestions on Pinterest and other forums for crafty types, one of the simplest approaches is to salvage a rectangular milk carton or Tetra-pack from your recycling bin. With an X-Acto knife or careful scissor work, cut panels from its sides to create a frame. The empty spaces can then be decorated with transparent paper that’s been glued or stuck on with double-sided tape. Alternately, fold up pieces of construction paper and cut as if you were making a paper snowflake. The resulting symmetrical pattern will look pretty when backlit by a flickering flight. In a pinch, a plain old brown paper lunch bag scribbled on with magic marker will work as a lantern too. And as for how to prevent the lantern from going up in flames? Today’s battery-operated LED candles mean no worries about singed hair, sizzled fingers or your family home being turned into a pile of ash.

Images of lanterns can be posted and shared on social media with the hashtag #stmartin2020.

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