St Martin Procession

written on 11/11/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

Sankt Martin, Sankt Martin...,

so it echoes when each year on the 11th of November thousands of kids wander through villages and cities at nightfall with their home-made lanterns (mainly in the Catholic communities of the Rhineland and Southern Germany).

They are singing Martins and Lantern Songs while the famous Martins Gans (Martin’s goose) [recipe is coming] is already in the oven at home. 

Sometimes these lantern processions are accompanied by a “Roman soldier “on horseback and often the young actors or policemen play the story of St. Martin.

This Catholic festival has a long tradition. It takes place in order to honor St. Martin and to tell his story.

Who was St. Martin and what connects him to lanterns and geese?

Martin was a Roman soldier, born around 316 A.D. According to the legend, he rode past a starving and freezing beggar on a cold winter’s day.

In that moment, he felt so sorry for him that he decided to cut his red gown in two with his sword and give one half to the poor man.

In the subsequent night, in a dream, the beggar appeared to him and presented himself as Jesus. Thereupon Martin got baptized and converted to Christianity. His aim was to become a priest.

But since he had committed himself to the Roman army, it took him many many years before he could pursue his calling. He was so popular with the believers that they thought he should become Bishop of Tours.

But since he preferred to work and help in small circles and did not consider himself worthy of this task, it is said that he hid in a goose coop before his nomination.

But the cackling birds revealed his hiding place and so he was consecrated Bishop of Tours. The goose became one of his sacred attributes and so the tradition has developed to serve a roast goose.

Martin was active in Tours for about 30 years. On the 11th of November Martin was buried with great participation of the people and a light procession.

Today St. Martin is, among others, the patron saint of the winemakers, tailors and weavers.

A postcard dated from 1913, with the procession in Erfurt

As mentioned before, the St. Martin processions vary across regions and are mostly held in Catholic areas. Some parishes finish their procession around a campfire with Kinderpunsch, mulled wine for the adults and breadsticks.

Others distribute traditional pastries to the children, the so- called Martinsmänner or Weckmänner

In other regions, the kids move from house to house after the procession while singing Martin songs. They get sweets  for their “schnoertzen und dotzen“.

But the most important thing about St. Martin for the kids is the home-made lantern.

When I was young, we made them out of cheese boxes (the older ones amongst us will remember) and tissue paper. And we used real candles. That’s why we also had to create new ones every year ☺

If you are looking for an idea for an easy home-made lantern, have a look on this site. It is made using a tetra pack.

The St. Martin’s procession was held for many years in Besozzo initiated by the Catholic German expat community. Now the Protestant community in Caldana thankfully continues with this highlight for the kids.

Especially for young German expat families and their international friends, it is a chance to get together and experience a little bit of home. I am pretty sure this event will take place again when Covid has gone.

Brenne auf mein Licht, brenne auf mein Licht, aber nur Du meine liebe Laterne nicht...

(that’s why parents these days can buy commercial lanterns. But I highly recommend you check the battery and the bulbs before the procession. Otherwise you will be in trouble ☺)

Photo 1: ©Markus Jöbstl, Photo  3: ©Ladislaus Hoffner, Photo 8: ©verchmarco, Photo 9: ©The man behing the mirror, Photo 10 & 11: ©HDValentin