St. Martin’s – Lighting the Season and Adopting Holidays

“…[a]lluding to the snows of that season, the Germans say that “St Martin comes riding on a white horse.”[1]

Mid-November marks one of my favorite adopted holidays. Why adopted? My husband is German. And while we Americans share many holidays with Europeans, this one—for the most part—we do not. But it’s still one of my favorites. Why?

Lampion_am_1._August_auf_der_Klewenalp-image courtesy Wikimedia

When my children were small, we collected German immigrant families in our area and created a small, weekly, after-school program focused on language learning based on cultural activities. Hands on stuff!

We’d make Berliner (donuts) for Fasching / Mardi Gras, we’d celebrate Oktoberfest never sure if we should do it in September with the Germans or October with the Americans. And our family favorite–to put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving (the American way) or the day before Christmas (the German way…)–depending if you define Christmas the American way–the 25th, or the German way–the 24th.  Such are the holiday concerns of multinational families–if they are lucky.

When we landed on celebrating St. Martin’s Day, I felt I’d come home, somehow, perhaps with only the backwards reach a descendent of that country could feel.

In the way that holidays can be comforting, I sat with the kids on pre-school chairs (by the way, not so comforting), punching holes in 8×11 pieces of construction paper, gluing colored cellophane to it and rolling it into a coffee can–sized tube that once a bottom with a candle was glued on, would become a lantern.  One evening, I think we even gathered the kids up and carried the glowing lanterns through the neighborhood singing “Laterne, Laterne,” the traditional lantern song.

St. Martin’s story is that of an altruistic and modest man. Saint Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) was said to have saved a homeless person from freezing to death my giving him his cloak. Traditionally, Germans celebrated by roasting a goose as mid November taxes were collected and often paid in the form of a goose.

Folklore also links St. Martin with geese, as they were said to have given up his hiding place when he wanted to hide form the people of Tours when they wished to make him bishop.

St.Martin_Memmingen_-_Martinsgans

-image courtesy Wikimedia

Perhaps it was the mulled cider, twinkling lights and folk songs that spun in my head, but this adopted holiday continues to light the way–for me–for the rest of the holiday season.

Sadly, I do not have any photos of the lanterns my children made through the years. I will have to–as my German mother-in-law says–carry that image in my heart. I wonder if my children will carry St. Martin’s tradition forward with them into their future?

Have you adopted a holiday or been drawn to a custom from another culture? What was it and why does it resonate with you?

Woerter fuer St. Martinstag Lied                                        Lyrics for St. Martin’s Day Song

cited from: http://german.about.com/library/blmus_laternegeh.htm

Ich geh mit meiner Laterne I Go with My Lantern
Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne I go with my lantern
Und meine Laterne mit mir. And my lantern goes with me.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, Up above the stars are shining,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Down here we’re shining.
Der Hahn, der kräht, die Katz miaut. The rooster, he crows; the cat meows.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Der Hahn, der kräht, die Katz miaut. The rooster, he crows; the cat meows.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne I go with my lantern
Und meine Laterne mit mir. And my lantern goes with me.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, Up above the stars are shining,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Down here we’re shining.
Der Martinsmann, der zieht voran. St. Martin, he marches on.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Der Martinsmann, der zieht voran. St. Martin, he marches on.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne I go with my lantern
Und meine Laterne mit mir. And my lantern goes with me.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, Up above the stars are shining,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Down here we’re shining.
Laternenlicht, verlösch mir nicht! Lantern light, don’t go out on me!
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Laternenlicht, verlösch mir nicht! Lantern light, don’t go out on me!
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne I go with my lantern
Und meine Laterne mit mir. And my lantern goes with me.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, Up above the stars are shining,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Down here we’re shining.
Ein Lichtermeer zu Martins Ehr! A sea of light in honor of Martin.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Ein Lichtermeer zu Martins Ehr! A sea of light in honor of Martin.
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne I go with my lantern
Und meine Laterne mit mir. And my lantern goes with me.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, Up above the stars are shining,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Down here we’re shining.
Mein Licht ist aus, My light is out,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
Wir geh’n nach Haus, We’re going home,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.
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16 thoughts on “St. Martin’s – Lighting the Season and Adopting Holidays

  1. The only German tradition passed along from my grandmother was pork and sauerkraut once a year. So, I have taken on the tradition in our home, usually taking place around Halloween because that is when my parents come for a visit. It also falls nicely with the American Oktoberfest.
    However, the one tradition we adopted is the St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef. There is not a hint of Irish on my side of the family, and I don’t think any Irish (only Scottish) on my husband’s side. I have learned to corn my own beef brisket and roast root vegetables for a fun yearly meal.
    One of the wonderful things about being American is that we get to share so many cultures. I enjoy learning about other countries and cultures (and their food!) to incorporate into our daily lives.
    Your lantern song is fun. Thank you for sharing!

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    • What sweet things you bring from family past to family present, Lisa! Yes, on the idea that we do so well in this country by melding other traditions into our own from our immigrant cultures! Glad you stopped by!

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  2. Christmas Eve (24th) was Christmas to my German grandmother. She didn’t understand the allure of Christmas Day. Thanks, Renee, for the memories. I love that you did this for your kids.

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    • Luanne – it’s so much fun. We actually haven’t done it in a few years. Just all busy in different directions, but hopefully this is what the intentionality of thinking about the holidays will remind me to do: to circle back to creating those moments again. Hard with activities and boyfriends and parties of their own choosing now. It goes so quick!

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  3. My mother always made vanilla crescents at Christmas time. My sisters and I try to keep up the tradition of making them, but theirs always turn out much better than mine. I have to keep practicing. That’s okay though because we have to eat all the broken pieces before trying again and they taste as good as the whole cookie.

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  4. Renee, I had no idea you loved the tradition so much. Did you see my Facebook post this week? Olivia’s school celebrates it every year. This year, her class was in charge of guarding the path that everyone walked on. They were all dressed as Roman soldiers and had made their own wooden swords. The entire school community walked with lanterns on a path lit with luminaries, after one of the teachers read the story and everyone drank cider. You have to join us next year!

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