St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who led a simple life. He became Bishop, but didn’t want to, so at one point, according to legend, he hid out in a barn to escape the people who were looking for him to appoint him Bishop. A flock of geese made noise and gave away his hiding place, so the goose has become the symbol of St. Martin and the traditional food served on his day. November 11th is also the beginning of Fasching, Karneval, and Fastnacht.
St. Martin’s most famous deed is reenacted each St. Martin’s Day here in Germany when he rides around a bonfire on a horse, then tears his cloak in two and gives half of it to a poor man.
Traditionally celebrated on November 11th by children all over Germany and the Netherlands, the children walk the streets after dark carrying their lanterns and singing songs. At the end they meet St. Martin, see his horse and the bonfire, and get a special treat. Because not all horses can handle being calm around kids and a bonfire, there are only a few in the area that are used and they are shared by all the local villages. So, not all St. Martin parades are on the same day.
A couple weeks before the event, the fire department (usually) will come around asking for donations. Tell them how many children you have and they will give you tickets for each. These tickets are for the goodie bags that each child will get at the event. (If you miss them at your door, you can ask for tickets at the church or at your local fire station.)
It’s a wonderful family holiday and a fun way to be involved in your village and participate in the culture here. Do dress warm – some of the parades (Teveren, in particular) can be quite long in the cold. Do bring strollers for little ones who may not be able to walk the whole thing. Be prepared with umbrellas as well if rain in impending. Sometimes hot cocoa or hot-spiced wine will be for sale, so a few Euros on a cold night might be a very nice thing.
** Also, the St. Martin’s Day celebration usually includes a Catholic Mass, so when checking the times, be clear on when the parade starts if you don’t want to sit through mass. In Teveren last year the parade started and finished at the school. In Gillrath, however, the parade started at the church, so when we arrived at 5, we ended up sitting through a long German mass before the parade started.
Traditional Song 1:
“Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne, Brenne auf mein Licht, Brenne auf mein Licht: Aber nur meine liebe Laterne Nicht!”
Traditional Song 2: (with the translation)
Ich geh’ mit meiner Lanterne (I’m coming with my lantern
Und meine Lanterne mit mir And my lantern with me
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne, There, over the light are the stars,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir. Here, under the light are we.
Mein Licht ist aus, My light it out
Wir gehn nach Haus, We’re going home,
Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum. Rabimmel, rabammel, rabum.)