Widely celebrated in Germany, St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag) is a Catholic feast day dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. Martin was born in Hungary, in 316 A.D., and as a teenager joined the Roman army, becoming a soldier as his father had.

According to legend, he 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 without aid. Martin had neither food, shelter or 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.

Martin was eventually baptized into the Catholic Church, founded a monastery and went on to become the Bishop of Tours. He died on Nov. 8, 397 A.D., and was buried on Nov. 11.

Thus, Nov. 11 of each year, towns and villages throughout Germany celebrate Martinstag.

This story of selflessness is taught to German children early and reinforced through a story 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). Pretzels and Glühwein are also traditionally served as celebratory fare.

Most villages across Germany will celebrate Martinstag, especially German states where Catholicism is the largest religious group such as Bavaria, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg. Residents residing in these states can expect local parades and festivals this weekend in celebration. You may even have children singing carols and going to door to door to collect money for the church, or treats.

Now that you’ll know what the village bonfire is for, don’t be shy and join the fun!

And if you want to join in the singing, here are the traditional German parade songs!

(Sung while walking in the parade)

“Laterne Laterne

Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne.

Brenne auf, mein Licht, brenne auf, mein Licht,

aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht.

Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne.

Sperrt ihn ein den Wind, sperrt ihn ein den Wind,

er soll warten bis wir zu Hause Sind.”

Lantern, lantern,

Lantern, lantern, sun, moon and stars.

Burn up, my light, burn up, my light,

but not only my dear lantern.

Lantern, lantern, sun, moon and stars.

Locks him in the wind, locks him in the wind,

he should wait until we are home.

(Sung at the end of the parade, on the return home)

“Ich geh‘ mit meiner Laterne

Und meine Laterne mit mir.

Dort oben leuchten die Sternen,

und unten, da leuchten wir.

Mein Licht ist aus,

ich geh’ nach Haus,

rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.

Mein Licht ist aus,

ich geh’ nach Haus,

rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.”

I go with my lantern

And my lantern with me.

Up there, the stars are shining,

and below, we shine.

My light is out,

I'm going home.

rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.

My light is out, I'm going home

rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.

Lyrics sourced from:

Translated to English via Google Translate

The best stories from EUROPE, in your inbox

Sign up to receive travel tips, local event details, restaurant reviews, recipes, community news, and more every week from Stripes Europe.

Sign Up Now