Singing, lantern parades mark St. Martin’s Day in Germany

Erwachsene und Kinder mit Laternen beim St.-Martins-Umzug

By Carola Meusel
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office

It may be dark and cold in Germany on the night of Nov. 11, but this is not why passersby will see children walking with a lantern.

As they walk, they sing: “I am walking with my lantern and my lantern is walking with me,” the children sing. “Up in the sky the stars are shining and down on earth we are shining as well. Saint Martin leads us – labimmel, labammel, labum.”

The song and hand-crafted lanterns part of Saint Martin’s day, celebrated all over Germany each year to honor Saint Martin, the patron saint of charity.

People in Germany, Bavaria, and Austria remember Saint Martin, a Roman legionnaire who converted to Christianity, became a monk and then, in 372 A.D., became the bishop of Tours.

Legend has it that the Roman Soldier, Martin, was traveling on a cold, winter night on his horse when he saw a freezing beggar. Martin felt compassion for the beggar and divided his coat into two pieces in order to share it with the beggar.

With this donation, Martin saved the beggar’s life and became the patron saint of charity.

Based on this legend, people all over Germany celebrate St. Martin’s Day each year with traditional St. Martin’s Day parades, the lighting of the Martin’s fire and reenactments of the legend.

Kindergarten and elementary school children craft their lanterns and rehearse songs about St. Martin for weeks in advance and then, during the evening of Nov. 11, light their lanterns and walk through the neighborhood with their family and friends.

This fall tradition has similarities to the American Halloween, since some children collect candies and baked goods. However, there is more to Martin’s Day, also called “Martini Day.”

The special highlight of the day is the Martin’s goose. According to the legend, when the people of Tours elected Martin to become bishop, the humble man felt uncomfortable with the responsibility. Therefore, he decided to hide in a goose stall. However, the geese chattered loudly and Martin was found and given the title of bishop.

This is why people in Southern Germany enjoy the traditional Martin’s goose dinner. The goose is stuffed and served with red cabbage and dumplings.
Children prefer baked Martin’s geese made out of cookie or yeast dough as a sweet twist on the original recipe, or the traditional salty Martin’s pretzel. In the Northern part of Germany, children receive a Martin’s pretzel made out of sweet yeast dough sprinkled with sugar.