Germany’s traditions: St. Martin’s Day, Advent and Christmas markets

Germany’s traditions: St. Martin’s Day, Advent and Christmas markets

by Jessica Zen and Kristi Adams
Stripes Europe

When the weather turns cold and the holidays are upon us, it’s time to start celebrating in Germany! Starting with St. Martin’s Day in November and continuing through the end of December, there is always an event in which to participate. Whether indoors or out in the open, get ready to celebrate some of Germany’s most festive traditions.

On Nov. 11 each year, St. Martin’s Day, “Martinstag,” is celebrated in honor of St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier. Legend says that Martin and other soldiers were returning on horseback to a town called Amiens during a heavy snowstorm when he came upon a beggar. The poor man’s clothes were ragged, and it was clear he would not survive the night. Martin had neither food, shelter nor money to offer the beggar so instead, he cut his heavy red soldier’s cloak in half and covered the man to keep him from freezing to death. It is said that later that evening Martin dreamed of Jesus Christ, where Christ revealed it was he who had been the beggar and thanked Martin for his cloak.

In order to share St. Martin’s selflessness, German children are taught through reenactment in local churches, where children dress in costumes for the storytelling. After the story is told, the children embark on a procession through their village carrying beautiful paper lanterns to a bonfire, or Martin’s Fire, “Martinsfeuer.” Children also sing carols and go door to door to collect money for the church or treats. You may also find local parades and festivals celebrating St. Martin.

The month of December brings Advent, a time to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child, “das Christkind” on Dec. 25. From Dec.1-24, there are various ways to celebrate Advent. Some choose to give up things (similar to Lent), while others choose to indulge in special treats like chocolate or alcohol-filled Advent calendars. Often families will set up Advent wreaths, “Adventskranz” on the first Sunday of the season, which holds four candles. Each candle represents one week of Advent.

Many towns and cities throughout Germany will host Christmas markets. Lovingly decorated wooden huts will likely line the square of the town that is putting on the event. You’ll find traditional items like gingerbread cookies, “Lebkuchen,” marzipan and mulled wine, Glühwein. Mulled wine is a fan favorite at the markets. Oftentimes you can collect ceramic mugs with the name of the town’s market and the dates as keepsakes. Craftsmen also sell their wares at the markets, and the range of items available is amazing. Think anything from handmade jewelry to delicate glass ornaments painted with vivid Christmas scenes.

Germany is full of traditions and customs for the holiday season. Share the story of St. Martin with your children or spend hours wandering through a winter wonderland in search of the perfect Christmas gift. No matter what you choose to do, cherish the time you have with friends and family while experiencing all Germany has to offer.

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