Children honor St. Martin in lantern processions

by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Courtesy photoChildren with lanterns walk in processions to honor St. Martin.
Courtesy photo
Children with lanterns walk in processions to honor St. Martin.

On Monday, Germans will observe St. Martin’s Day, and children and their parents will be seen walking in lantern processions throughout the KMC.

Nov. 11 is the day to honor St. Martin, the patron saint of the poor and a friend of children.

In Kaiserslautern and villages in the Kaiserslautern county, parishes and kindergartens will organize lantern processions where children will carry lanterns they created through town while singing songs about St. Martin. Usually, the procession starts at a church and proceeds to a public square. St. Martin will accompany the children dressed as a Roman soldier on horseback.

When the procession reaches the square, a play about St. Martin will be performed, a bonfire will be lit and Martin’s pretzels will be distributed.

In Landstuhl, St. Martin’s parade will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday with a play at Heilig-Geist-Kirche and end at the Altenzentrum (meeting place for senior citizens) with a bonfire and the sale of Martin’s pretzels, tea and Glühwein.

In Kaiserslautern, a lantern procession will start at 6 p.m. Monday from St. Martin’s Church near St. Martinsplatz at the start of Steinstrasse and end in front of the Rathaus (city hall). Here, St. Martin will light the bonfire.

In Ramstein-Miesenbach, festivities will start at 6 p.m. Monday at the Catholic church. Then, the lantern procession will head through town, accompanied by St. Martin and musicians. Afterward, the St. Martin’s play will begin, the bonfire will be lit, and pretzels and Glühwein will be available.

About St. Martin
Martin of Tours was born in the year 316 or 317 as the son of a Roman civil servant. At age 15, he joined the Emperor’s cavalry.

One cold, winter day, he was riding through the country when a shivering beggar came his way asking for alms. Since Martin had neither food nor money, he cut his robe in half with his sword and gave a piece to the freezing man.

The story goes that the following night, Jesus appeared in Martin’s dream and explained how he had been the freezing beggar, to whom Martin had given half his robe.

This event changed the soldier’s life; Martin left the army, got baptized and became a student of Hilarius of Poitiers. In 356, after Martin’s teacher was banned and he failed to convert his father and others to the teachings of Hilarius, he left for an island near Genua, where he lived as a hermit.

In 360, Martin gave up his solitary life to join Hilarius again who returned to Poitiers. In 361, he founded the first Gallic monastery in Liguge. In 371, the clergy and the people from Tours elected him for bishop. In 375, he established Marmoutier, a monastery for ascetic life and a school for bishops.

Martin kept trying to evangelize pagans. On Nov. 8, 397, during a pastoral trip to Candes, he died. Thousand of monks, consecrated virgins and others went to his funeral  on Nov. 11.

Years later, a basilica with the St. Martin Abbey was built on top of Martin’s gravesite. King Chlodwig elected Martin as patron of the Francs.

The tradition of the lanterns goes back to former times when people lit candles to honor a saint and when lanterns were used to decorate a town in preparation of a bishop’s visit.

The custom of lighting a bonfire after the lantern procession represents the beginning of festivities. In former times, after all the work on the fields had been completed, it was time to celebrate, drink and eat. Traditionally, a fat goose and sweet bread were served.

One legend says that St. Martin died after eating a whole goose at a single meal. Another legend says Martin was hiding to avoid his election as Bishop of Tours, but chattering geese revealed his hiding place. The tradition of eating a “Martin’s goose” at this time of year has been kept. Many restaurants in the KMC added Martin’s goose with dumplings and red cabbage to their menus. Even on Christmas, Germans like to serve goose.

Besides the traditional lantern processions, some other festivities honoring St. Martin are scheduled to take place:

• The Martinus wine fest will be held today to Monday in the wine growing village of St. Martin, south of Neustadt.

• A Martini carnival with rides, arts and crafts presentations, St. Martin’s fire, vendors and children’s activities is scheduled to take place today to Tuesday.

• Wallhalben will host a Martini market with vendors’ stands and food and beverage booths Saturday.

• Dahn will hold its traditional Martini market with vendors and a small carnival Sunday. Stores will be open in the afternoon.