Martinmas, celebrated on November 11 each year, is a not-to-be-missed celebration in the Waldorf/ Steiner schools, kindergartens, and communities all around the world. It is also one closely linked to the German culture.
Interestingly, Martinmas – also known as St. Martin’s Day – is not originated from Germany but France. It then spread through Europe: Germany, British Isles, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.
In this part of Germany where we live, Rheinland, Martinmas is celebrated in most of the kindergartens, schools, and families. We have processions in each city, town, or small village.
This will be our 3rd year celebrating Martinmas in Germany. In fact, we adopted this festival into our family 7 years ago when we lived in Austria, although I have to say, at that time it was only through food. In Vienna, restaurants had special menus and it was a great occasion to meet up with friends.
When my daughter was born we reflected on which holidays we want to keep or adopt as family traditions so we chose holidays from all the countries we lived in. We made a mindful decision to keep those that are in line with our family values.
The story behind Martinmas conveys values like sharing, empathy, generosity, and kindness.
It is told that on a cold, dark night Martin was riding on his horse on his way back home and his warm coat protected him from the icy weather. When he approached his town he saw a man who was freezing. His clothes were so worn that they fell apart. Nobody tried to help the poor man. Martin felt his heart filled with compassion and he used his sword to cut his coat in two. He gave the man one half and he kept the other half.
The weeks before Martinmas, children craft their own lanterns at school or in kindergartens. Children from the same school decorate their lanterns in a similar style.
Last year we made some jar lanterns in our forest playgroup too. My daughter was only two and a half years old at that time but she loved decorating her own lantern. It is pretty easy to make, all you need are empty, clean jars, leaves, silk paper and an ecological glue. Children glue the leaves and the pieces of paper on the jar and they usually have a lot of fun making the decorations. You can place the jars on the dining room table or hang them in the trees. I think it’s important for children to have their own creations displayed in their homes and they usually take pride in seeing their work valued.
If you want to take your jar lanterns for a lantern walk you will need to add a handle that you can easily make with a metal wire.
In Germany, many other preparations are done for this festival, including food, pastries, and crafts. Children usually learn and sing Martin Songs and play Martin games, especially in kindergartens. Each child gets to ride on an imaginary horse and be Saint Martin of Tours.
In our family, we enjoy reading books and telling Martin’s story. Each year I prepare a little shadow theatre for my daughter where we play Martin’s story with small wooden figurines.
The Martinmas Festival
Where we live, each city and village organizes lantern walks called Martinsumzüge or Lanternumzüge. Children arrive with their friends or classmates and they form small groups. They proudly show their self-made lanterns. Parents take part in lantern walks too. Usually, the procession is also accompanied by a children’s marching band. The groups are walking together singing Martin songs. The procession is joined at some point by Saint Martin, riding on his white horse. The procession ends with a bonfire, “Martinsfeuer.”
Each time I see the Martinmas processions here in Germany I’m amazed by how little children act safely and consciously around fire. Sometimes there are huge processions of hundreds of children and they carry paper lanterns and real candles inside. I have never seen a child playing with fire or getting burned. When trusted and well informed about the safety rules, children are capable of safely dealing with fire.
After the procession, people go home and some families prepare a special dinner. Roasted goose might be served, as well as Glühwein for adults, and Martinspunsch (a spicy drink made of apple juice and elderberry juice) for children. Special pastries, Martinsmänner, are also baked for the occasion.
Creating Authentic Family Traditions
I’m sure that you will agree with me: living in different cultures and countries, opens our eyes and hearts to new traditions and celebrations. We are fascinated by new festivals, ways of celebrating, by new foods and rituals. Very often we adopt them into our family and they blend into our own family traditions. It is a quite natural process.
Before doing so, it is worth it to pause and be mindful about a celebration that we are about to adopt as a family tradition. We can ask ourselves:
- What does this celebration symbolize? What do we know and what do we perceive about it?
- What does it mean to our own family?
- What values do we perceive in this celebration? Are they in line with our own family values?
- What values do I want to model and hope to pass on to my children by celebrating this tradition?
- How will we celebrate it when we don’t live in this country anymore?
To create authentic celebrations that become solid family traditions, it is important to know if a particular holiday or festival is aligned with your family values. If you haven’t done this work yet, here you can read more about family values and how you can identify yours.
Not all the celebrations will make it to our family traditions but they all bring a fascinating glimpse into the cultures we are living in and this is a precious gift that we receive when living abroad.
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