• Germany's news in English
 

Celebrating St. Martin's Day in Germany

Published: 11 Nov 2013 10:10 GMT+01:00
Updated: 11 Nov 2013 09:15 GMT+01:00

What exactly are we celebrating?

Martinstag is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm.

What do the lanterns mean?

In many parts of Germany it is traditional for children to participate in a procession of paper lanterns in remembrance of St. Martin. They make their own little lanterns in school or kindergarten and then gather on city streets to sing songs about good old Marty and their lanterns. Often a man dressed as St. Martin with a long red cloak leads the parade on horseback.

So this is actually a big deal then?

It's officially a Catholic holiday, but in recent years the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany. So just like Santa Claus has little to do with the birth of Christ, these days St. Martin Day's is probably better known for the luminous procession than the saintly history.

So what do I do on St. Martin’s Day?

If you have kids, you’ll probably spend the evening outside with a bunch of other parents and their children. You’ll be busy relighting the tea candles in those fiddly little lanterns with cold, stiff fingers, and drying off children's tears because, as upsetting it is for the kids, paper lanterns lit by candles tend to catch fire quite quickly. Who would have thought...

Heavens! That sounds dangerous.

Well, definitely worrying for the parents, forced to prevent their little ones from accidentally setting each other on fire during the procession. But on the other hand, it wouldn’t really be a proper St. Martin’s procession without someone stamping out a flaming lantern, or a sad-faced child clutching to a charred stick.

What do I do if I don’t have children? Is there anything else to it?

Like most holidays, St. Martin's Day is also about eating food. The traditional victuals are goose with red cabbage and dumplings.

Yummy! But why goose?

According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become a bishop as an honour for all his good deeds, so he hid in a stable filled with geese to escape from Church officials. Martin might have been a very kind and gentle man, but he apparently wasn’t the smartest. Otherwise he would have considered a better hiding place than a pen filled with gabbling geese - who ended up giving away his location.

And the geese had to pay for that?

Perhaps, but the more likely reason is that November 11 is the beginning of Advent fasting and hardcore Catholics get a last chance to feast before they abstain from greasy food and booze until Christmas.

And if I am not Catholic, don’t like goose and have no children?

Then you might want to huddle around one of the many Martin bonfires, eat something else or simply celebrate the beginning of carnival, as it starts on November 11 as well.

READ MORE: Stricter rules means no pony for St Martin

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Kerstin von Glowacki (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol
Image: Fremantle Media/YouTube

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol

A 22-year-old from Hanover has become the latest winner of Vietnam Idol – bagging $27,000 along with his new title. READ  

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public
If you want to rest in place while you're still alive, a car park isn't the place place to choose. Photo: DPA

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public

When a man walking his dog alerted police to the fact that a black coffin was lying in the middle of a public parking place, the cops were surprised to find someone inside. READ  

Court orders boss to pay worker for changing
Photo: Pixabay

Court orders boss to pay worker for changing

A mechanic from western Germany is set to receive €350 in back payments – after claiming he should be paid for the time he spent showering and getting dressed for work. READ  

In Pictures
Wacken festival draws metalheads of the world
A reveler at Wacken Open Air 2015. Photo: DPA

Wacken festival draws metalheads of the world

Armies of black-clad fans gathered for the world's biggest heavy metal festival between Thursday and Saturday, marking 25 years of headbanging fun in the small town of Wacken in northern Germany. READ  

Railway sunbather brings trains to a halt
Photo: DPA

Railway sunbather brings trains to a halt

A plucky sunbather brought train services in North Rhine-Westphalia to an abrupt halt at the weekend - after deciding to catch some rays on the tracks. READ  

Spiegel: Merkel wants fourth term in power
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Spiegel: Merkel wants fourth term in power

According to Germany's most influential political magazine, Spiegel, Angela Merkel has decided to run for a fourth term in power and has already started talks on who will run her campaign. READ  

State leaders call for faster asylum processes
Refugees at a temporary reception centre in Baden Württemberg. Photo: DPA

State leaders call for faster asylum processes

Several state leaders called for more investment in processing asylum applications over the weekend as the backlog continues to put severe strain on current infrastructure. READ  

German sets Florida to Cuba speedboat record
Roger Klueh. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / DPA

German sets Florida to Cuba speedboat record

A German businessman and power boating fanatic on Saturday broke a 57-year-old record for the fastest boat crossing between the United States and Cuba. READ  

Report: German refugee figures 'underestimated'
Migrants on a train on their way to the EU. Photo: Djordje Savic / DPA

Report: German refugee figures 'underestimated'

Germany has hosted more than 300,000 asylum seekers since the start of the year, said the daily Die Welt on Saturday, nearly 50,000 more than first thought, as Berlin prepares for a record influx of refugees in 2015. READ  

Migrant wounded in German police shooting
Photo: DPA

Migrant wounded in German police shooting

A Guinean migrant who caused a brawl in a home for asylum seekers in Germany was shot and seriously wounded by police, local media reported. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

7,099
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd