• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Celebrating St. Martin's Day in Germany

Kerstin von Glowacki · 11 Nov 2013, 09:15

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.

Story continues below…

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 news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Kerstin von Glowacki (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German populist party in race row over Boateng remarks
Boateng, who has a Ghanaian father, was born and brought up in Berlin. Photo: DPA

A leading member of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party sparked outrage Sunday after making racist remarks about national football team defender Jerome Boateng.

Dozens hit by lightning strike in west Germany
Witnesses to the lightning strike said it came out of the blue. Photo: DPA

35 people were injured in the west German village of Hoppstädten when lightning struck the pitch at the end of a children's football match.

Dresden 'most woman-friendly’ city in Germany
Photo: DPA.

Sorry Berlin, you're not the most progressive city for women, according to a new report.

The future belongs to these 10 German regions
This east German city won the 'most improved' category. Photo: DPA

A new study shows that one city above all will dominate the future of Germany, but if you're canny you might still want to think about moving to Leipzig or Erfurt.

Fugitive ex-terrorists 'on huge crime spree' in north Germany
(L-r): ex-RAF members Volker Staub, Daniela Klette, and Burkhard Garweg. Photo: BKA

In their struggle against capitalism they once murdered businessmen and politicians. Now three ex-terrorists have taken to robbing supermarkets - and rather successfully, too.

Scooter singer finally reveals how much the fish cost
H.P. Baxxter. Photo: DPA

It is the question Germans have wanted to know the answer to for almost two decades - and now they have the answer, thanks to a US talkshow host.

'I'm definitely not a paedophile': disgraced MP
Former MP Sebastian Edathy is in hiding after a child pornography scandal destroyed his career. Photo: DPA

Former MP Sebastian Edathy quit his job and left Germany after videos of naked children were found on his computer.

Weekend promises storms, humidity - and a bit of sun
A storm in Cuxhaven last weekend. Photo: DPA

The forecast for the coming days isn’t the pristine blue skies many of us are longing for. But, in among the storms, the sun will still peek out.

Prosecutors take aim at unedited Hitler book
An original edition of 'Mein Kampf' featuring a photo of Hitler on an inside cover. Photo: DPA

German prosecutors said on Thursday they were investigating whether to bring charges against a publisher who has promised to print a version of Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic manifesto "Mein Kampf" without annotations.

VW bets on battery factory for electric car dominance
A VW logo is seen in front of a plugged-in electric car. Photo: DPA

Scandal-hit car giant Volkswagen is set to sink huge sums into building a factory for batteries to power its future electric cars, German media reported on Friday.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Society
Pegida enraged by black children on chocolate bars
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
National
Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
Lifestyle
10 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
Politics
MP recites explicit Erdogan bestiality poem on live TV
National
China beats Germany in readiness to help refugees
Hamburg
Headless Lübeck corpse turns out to be discarded sex doll
National
Pensioner claims to have found hidden Nazi nukes
Business & Money
Here's why Munich is worth 20 times more than Berlin
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that will stay with you forever
Technology
Church plans to connect with faithful at Wi-Fi 'Godspots'
Technology
Online hate speech can cost users thousands of Euros
Society
Bavarians in rush for non-lethal weapons licenses
Sport
Here's Germany's Mannschaft for Euro 2016
Culture
The Syrian pianist playing his way into Germans' hearts
The parrot who flew fast enough to trigger a speed camera
Technology
New law could let free Wi-Fi bloom across Germany
Politics
Berlin's plans to beef up the German army
Sport
Lufthansa's Euro 2016 ad takes aim at England
National
Supermarkets must pay massive fine for fixing beer prices
National
4/20: Five things to know about weed in Germany
Berlin
Police break up hipster swarm at vegan restaurant opening
7,831
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd