Shining a light on Martinstag

Families gather at a bonfire to cele­brate Martinstag in Landstuhl, Nov. 7. Local villages hold bonfires in addition to lantern processions and singing.

Playful songs and laughter fill the air while lines of bobbling lights march along wet roads toward a warm bonfire in the center of a German village. Upbeat music from a live band flows through the chilly air and compliments the children’s singing.

For Americans in the Kaiserslautern Military Com­munity, Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day. For Germans, it’s a day to celebrate an age-old tradition known as Martinstag, an observance dedicated to St. Martin of Tours who was a Roman knight known for his selflessness and modesty.

In the evenings leading up to and on the night of Nov. 11, children sing songs and walk in processions with lanterns they create in school. These marches are often led by a horse and rider wearing a red cloak, representing St. Martin. The lanterns echo a time when people would burn their fields after a harvest and is symbolic of the gratitude for a successful yield.

Children from the Kaiserslautern Military Community walk with lanterns in celebration of Martinstag in Landstuhl, Nov. 7. The lanterns are part of an age-old tradition symbolizing gratitude for a good harvest.

“Martinstag is a tradition that’s hundreds of years old and is more for children,” said Eva Maldonado, 86th Airlift Wing host nation advisor. “Its origins come from the same Celtic source as Halloween.”

The legend of St. Martin is that he noticed a beggar on the side of the road during a snowstorm in the city of Tours. He cut his red cloak in half to share with the individual so they wouldn’t freeze to death. However, the traditional meal of roasted goose — Martinsgans — is based on a different part of the legend. When St. Martin was chosen as the third Bishop of Tours, he felt unworthy and hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise they made gave away his location and the people of Tours had him blessed as a bishop.

Germany celebrates many holidays throughout the year which provide opportunities for the KMC to learn more about Germany’s culture. The German-American community office is also a great resource for Americans wanting to learn more about German culture.

A primary school teacher sings a traditional song about Martinstag with her class. The observance is a celebration of St. Martin, a Roman soldier who became a monk for his selflessness and modesty.