One of the perks of being a nomadic family is witnessing and learning about the customs and celebrations of different cultures. Germany is rich with seasonal celebrations and Martinstag or The Feast of St. Martin (which took place the 11th of November) is one of those.
Words & Pics by Lynda Higgs
It originates in France but is celebrated in Catholic regions across Europe. In the traditional Catholic calendar it precedes a period of fasting and in the agrarian calendar it marks the end of the harvest season.
St. Martin was a Roman soldier who, on his way to his new camp, came across a beggar freezing at the side of the road. Whilst the other soldiers laughed at the beggars’ misfortune, Martin took out his sword and cut his warm cloak in half, giving half to the beggar. That night he had a dream in which Jesus came to him saying “What you did for that poor man, you did for me.”. This dream led to Martin’s decision to become a monk who was known for his humility and his kindness to children and the poor.
In the days preceding the festival children make paper lanterns at school, of all shapes and sizes. We attended a short family service at a local church on the evening of November 11th, before joining the procession of other children (and parents) carrying lanterns and singing Martin songs. The lantern parade proceeded to a public square, led by a man dressed as St Martin and riding on horseback. On reaching the square a Martin’s bonfire was lit and a short play of the story of St Martin was enacted. Afterwards the children enjoyed sweet Martin’s pretzels and other pastries, including ones shaped like gingerbread men (Stutenkerl), and geese; these pastries are sold in local bakeries in the week preceding Martinstag, as well as on the day, and are a firm favourite with my daughter!
We also enjoyed the traditional St Martin’s feast of roast goose, usually served with red cabbage and dumplings, which probably originates from one of the legends of St Martin which tells us that, when trying to avoid being ordained Bishop of Tours, Martin had hidden in a goose pen resulting the cackling geese betraying his whereabouts.
The feast of Martinstag historically preceded a 40 day fasting period in preparation for the Christmas celebration; we live in a very Catholic part of Germany so a wide range of fresh and smoked fish is sold in the supermarkets during this period, although for the less observant of us meat is still available as the Church relaxed its rules a while ago!
To view more of Lynda’s images visit: lyndahiggsphotography.weebly.com
Eager to learn more about German traditions? Stay Tuned! Next weeks, our Guest Blogger Lynda will share with us the joy of the Christmas market, and the thrill of a visit from Sankt Nikolaus (or as we know him, Santa Claus).
- Celebrating St. Martin’s Day in Germany (thelocal.de)
- Saints and Feasts: St Martin the Merciful the Bishop of Tours (orthodoxlogos5.wordpress.com)
- Fabric Lanterns for Martinmas (beek.typepad.com)
- Martinmas (shawsseasonalliving.wordpress.com)