Germany is renowned for hosting celebrations that are recognised as being welcoming, captivating, fun and energetic. On the 11th November each year, the country hosts St Martin’s day, a religious observance that celebrates modesty and altruism. The celebration is a favourite amongst German children and is dedicated to St Martin of Tours.
Originally, the festivities marked the beginning of a fast until Christmas and so, as is common with many German celebrations, St Martin’s Day focuses heavily on food. Celebrations include the Laternenumzüge, whereby children make their own lanterns and parade them through the street on the evening of Nov 11th. The parade is usually inclusive of someone dressed up at St Martin, riding on horseback through the town.
The arade tends to lead to a large bonfire, where townspeople will gather and sing songs together. The bonfires are nationally referred to a Martinsfeuer. During this time, attendees are served sweet snacks such as pastries and mulled wine.The celebrations continue with a large festive meal and traditionally, this includes roasted goose or duck.
St Martin’s Day is not recognised as a public holiday and so the celebrations tend to take place in the evening, after work and school has finished.
The legend surrounding St Martin is that he was a caring and selfless Roman legionary, who was appointed the Third Bishop of Tours. German children recognise the story of him saving a homeless man from death by freezing by giving him half of his cloak. It is this altruism that is the focal point of St Martin’s Day.
The focus of the goose at the celebratory meal lies with the medieval history of the country. November 11th would have been pay day and taxes were often paid with a goose and so the meal is reminiscent of this history.
Recently, Martinmas, the German name for St Martin’s Day, has been elongated to encompass the two weeks previous to 11th November. IN the Rhine area of the country in particular, the celebrations can last several days.
The riversides play home to many smaller bonfires and children begin their lantern preparations and making well before the date. In some parts of Germany, the children will knock on the doors of neighbours to show their lanterns and sing songs in return for gifts of sweets.
The evolving nature of the celebration is noting a diminishing number of large town bonfires in favour of smaller festivities. The tradition of the lantern precision is very much still popular, though smaller fires are being chosen over large community options. That said, some of the country’s larger cities adopt all encompassing celebrations of the event.
Image 3: Source: St Martin’s Day in Dortmund www.dortmund.de
Image 4: Source: St Martin’s Day Berlin via German Embassy London
Image 5: Source: November 11 As Seen From Germany – uk.ign.com