St. Martin’s Day traditions honor missionary

by Petra Lessoing
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

***image1***Germans celebrate St. Martin’s Day Tuesday. It’s the day to honor St. Martin, who was a missionary in France and Bishop of Tours.

The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions through Kaiserslautern and villages in the KMC. They carry lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.

St. Martin was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.
He 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 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, 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, 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 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.

In Kaiserslautern, the lantern procession of St. Martin’s Church starts at 6 p.m. Saturday 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, children meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the St. Nikolaus Catholic church. After a short celebration organized by the Montessori kindergarten, the lantern procession, accompanied by musicians, will go through town. Then the St. Martin’s play will be presented next to the church and the bonfire will be lit. Finally, pretzels and Glühwein will be offered. Net profits will go to the church’s missionary aid to send clothes packages to South America.

In Landstuhl city, St. Martin’s parade starts at 6 p.m. today 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.

Also in Otterbach, Mehlbach, Hirschhorn, Niederkirchen and Schallodenbach the lantern processions begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

In the wine village of St. Martin, south of Neustadt, the Martinus wine fest is being cele-brated today through Tuesday.

Dahn holds its traditional Martini market with vendors and a carnival Sunday.