“It’s not St. Martin’s Day until someone sets their lantern on fire.” So said my wise friend just after we set our son’s lantern on fire. I suppose after combining a paper lantern, burning candle, and two-year-old on a pitch-black night, we had it coming. It wasn’t serious– the charred hole in the lantern had a certain charm, and the parade went on.
I really like St. Martin’s Day. It conflicts with Veteran’s Day in the U.S. which might be why I didn’t know much about it prior to living in Germany. One of the drawbacks of living overseas– missing familiar holiday celebrations from home– has a positive flip side: you get to experience new holidays. On St. Martin’s Day, children will make paper lanterns illuminated from the inside, and walk in a procession, singing songs about lanterns (which A. and I tend to sing all year round, now that we know them). If they’re lucky, there will be a man dressed as St. Martin himself, leading the procession on horseback. Families might also eat a celebratory dinner; the timing of the holiday is supposed to coincide with the final harvest.
We attended two St. Martin’s processions this year. I loved the first because the man playing St. Martin had a stunning black horse and, when it was over, rode off into the forest like a ghost. But the second had its charm too. It began with a short church service that featured children acting out St. Martin’s story– according to legend, he cut his own cloak in half on a bitter cold night and gave it to a poor man. Later, he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the other half of his cloak. To close the service, some children led a prayer asking God to always help them recognize when they could be of service to those less fortunate.
A.’s little friend from up the street must have been listening; she gave us one of her lanterns from the previous year to use during the procession. It had a battery-operated light inside– I can’t imagine why.