Children honor St. Martin in procession

by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When children and parents walk in lantern procession the nights prior and on Nov. 11 they do this to honor St. Martin, the patron of the poor and friend of children. The 11th of November does not only mark the beginning of carnival season, it also is St. Martin’s Day.

In Kaiserslautern and villages in the KMC, parishes and kindergartens organize lantern procession where children carry lanterns, which they created in kindergarten or school, and sing Martin songs. Usually the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like a Roman soldier, Saint Martin, accompanies the children. When they reach the square, the Martin’s play is being performed, the bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.

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

In Kaiserslautern, a big lantern procession will start 6 p.m. Nov. 11 from St. Martin’s Church near St. Martinsplatz at the beginning of Steinstrasse and end in front of the Rathaus (city hall). Here St. Martin will divide his coat and the bonfire will be lit.

In Ramstein-Miesenbach, festivities will start at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in the Catholic church. Then the lantern procession with St. Martin on a horse and musicians will go through town. The St. Martin’s play will be presented, the bonfire will be lit and pretzels and Glühwein will be available.

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.

Supposedly, the following night Jesus appeared in Martin’s dream and explained how he had been the freezing beggar, who Martin had given half his robe to.
This event changed the soldier’s life. He 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 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 put up everywhere in town when a bishop came for a visit.

The custom of lighting a bonfire after the lantern procession represents the beginning of festivities. In former times, most of the work on the fields had been completed and now 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 that 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.

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

In the wine village of St. Martin, south of Neustadt, the Martinus wine fest is being celebrated today through Sunday and Nov. 11 and 12.