Tuesday 24 November 2015

Strange German Holidays #9 - Martinstag

So I now I am waaaaay behind - not just with updating you on my progress, but also with commenting on all of your awesome posts, and some more things on top of that - but I do have reasons. Okay, reason number one is me being lazy, as usual, but there are other reasons too, I swear - good busy reasons, so don't you worry, but reasons still! Nevertheless, I need to at least make time to tell you about one of my favourite holidays (and hopefully about some other November holidays as well before the huge holiday period of pre-christmas starts). So, this favourite of mine is Martinstag, St. Martin's Day in English, or just St. Martin for short.

St. Martin lived in the fourth century AD in Hungary. He was born in 316 or 317 and was later to become the bishop of Tours, but in his youth, following his father's wishes, he became a soldier of the Roman Empire. St. Martin's Day is celebrated on the 11th of November, which is the day he was buried after he died in 397 (coincidently, this is also the day Fasnacht starts - see here).

Now as the story is told, one day in winter, Martin (or Martinus by his Roman name) came across a poor, half naked man, freezing to death in the cold. Now Martinus was a soldier, sitting high up on his horse - it would have been easy to overlook the poor guy, but he didn't. He wanted to help, but he didn't have anything on him but his weapons and his military uniform. So he took his sword, and cut his warm, bright red coat (which historically was probably white, but red sounds nice in the story) in half, offering one half to the guy on the ground.

Now in his honour, there are parades everywhere where children will march through the dark holding lanterns (often hand crafted - we used to make them all together in kindergarden, later my mum helped me, and the last one I personally made a few years ago can be seen here) and singing special songs about St Martin, his deeds, and lanterns. They also act out the scene with the beggar or, if they're lucky, there's an actual horseman to do that. At the end of the parade, children will get pretzels or special rolls (Martinsweck). I don't know if they do that everywhere, but when I was in kindergarden and elementary school, we would only get one pretzel for two kids, so we had to share it, just like Martin shared his coat. Here's a video I found on Youtube that gives quite a nice impression of a St Martin's parade:

Another custom that is quite common, but we personally never did this, is to have goose for dinner on St Martin's day. There are several stories behind this, but the one I heard as a child goes as follows:
When Martin had left the army, he started living as a kind of hermit, but he soon gained quite some followers for his good deeds. Eventually, the people of Tours wanted to make him their bishop, but, being humble as he was, Martin refused. The people insisted, and he fled, hiding in a geese-coop. But the geese, being, well, geese, quacked and chattered loudly, people found him, and he became the bishop anyways. So today, we eat them - you know, to thank them. Or maybe to punish them for giving poor Martin away.

Now there are many more traditons surounding this holiday (which isn't actually a day off by the way, you only get to celebrate in the evening) - for example, in some regions the kids go from door to door with their lanterns, like on Halloween - but these are the ones I have personally experienced and grew up with. It  was one of my favourites as a kid, because crafting the lanterns was always so much fun, there's a horse, and the songs are really beautiful - and today, I still like the lanterns, still like horses and still love the songs, but over everthing else I love this thought of sharing and caring. Some people are now trying dispose of Martin's Day because, being a Christian celebration and all, it's deemed inapropriate to celebrate in public school where children of other faith's are exposed to it, but I really hope they keep the tradition alive in one way or another :)


Tiffstitch said...

Thanks for the info! And you may want to check that site that has the photo of your lantern, I got a suspicious message when I tried to see it.

Leonore Winterer said...

You're welcome! The site with the photo is deviantart, which is, as far as I know, trustworthy and clean.

Heather said...

Great post :) I love reading these. I don't see why people are eager to get it out of schools it doesn't seem like a really Christian holiday like Christmas but more "hey let's share things and eat and craft" :)

katjakay said...

I knew nothing about this holiday, and it sounds like such fun,

katjakay said...

I knew nothing about this holiday, and it sounds like such fun,

Susan said...

What a fun holiday. I'd love to make a lantern and participate.

Carla - Alaska Wolf Pack said...

It shouldn't matter what faith a person follows, there is a lesson here and that should be the point: I have very little but still more than you and I will gladly share it. I love that lesson!