Lantern processions honor St. Martin

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

Nov. 11 marks not only the beginning of carnival season, it also is St.
Martin’s Day. It is the day to honor St. Martin, who was a missionary
in France and Bishop of Tours.

As soon as it gets dark, in Kaiserslautern and villages of the county,
children walk in processions carrying self-made lanterns and singing
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 bonfire is lit
and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.

The saint was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.
He was born around the year 316 or 317 as the son of a Roman civil servant. At age 15, he joined the Emperor’s cavalry.

***image1***One cold winter day, he was riding through country when a shivering
beggar came his way asking for an alm. 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, Martin’s teacher
was banned by emperor Konstantin II.

After Martin failed to convert his father and others to the teachings
of Hilarius, he left for an island near Genua, where he lived as a
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

In 371, he was elected bishop by the clergy and the people from Tours.
In 375, he established Marmoutier, a monastery for ascetic life and a school for bishops.

Martin was still 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

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.
In Kaiserslautern, the lantern procession of St. Martin’s Church starts
at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 at St. Martinsplatz at the beginning of Steinstrasse
and ends in front of the Rathaus, where St. Martin will divide his coat
and the bonfire will be lit.

In Ramstein village, festivities will start with a short ceremony at 6
p.m. Nov. 11 in the Catholic church. Then the procession with St.
Martin and music will go through town. The St. Martin’s play will be
presented, the bonfire will be lit and pretzels and Glühwein will be

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