A German November Tradition

Happy Halloween everybody!

I hope you are enjoying this wonderful time of the year and eat as many pumpkin-filled meals as we do at the moment. Halloween in Germany is celebrated like it is in England, so actually there is not much to tell about! Children dress up, go from door to door and shout the German version of ‘Trick or Treat’, which is “Süßes, sonst gibt’s Saures!”. This can roughly be translated as “Give me sweets (Süßes), otherwise we will give you something sour (Saures)”. Of course, Halloween parties are a big tradition as well, pumpkin carving and so on!

Since Halloween is not very different, I want to tell you about another German tradition, that takes place some weeks after the 31st, the so-called ‘Martinstag’. This day is celebrated on the 11th of November and offers little kids another opportunity to stay up late and to walk through town with (handmade) lanterns. When I was a child, I used to love this evening, because my mother would make an awesome lantern with all the other kindergarten mummies. The lanterns can come in all shapes and colours as long as they are safe to handle and do not burst into flames while walking around with them. After nightfall, groups of children and their parents gather, the candles are lit (or the electric lights are turned on…) and traditional Martinslieder are sung. While some songs tell the legend of the tradition’s namesake, Saint Martin, others are about the stars and the moon, or the lanterns.

So, who was this Martin guy?

According to the legend, Martin was a Roman soldier in 316 AD. He rode on his horse in a cold winter night and met a poor beggar, who was freezing in the snow. Instead of riding past the beggar, Martin pitied the poor man. Hence, he took off his warm red cape, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. It is said, that after this event, Martin dreamed of the man, who revealed himself as Jesus Christ. After this vision, the soldier became a Christian and a popular man amongst the citizens of Tours (France). In fact, the people were so fond of Martin, that they wanted him to become their new bishop – a position that Martin did not think himself worthy of. When the citizens were looking for him, he hid in a geese coop. Unfortunately, it was the shouting of the animals that uncovered his hiding place and the former soldier was finally ordained Bishop of Tours. After his death, Martin was made a saint.
Due to the latter part of the legend, some people prepare a Martinsgans, a roast goose, for this special day.

In some places the lantern processions, so called Martinsumzüge, end with a bonfire and children are given little goose-shaped yeast buns or biscuits.

In case you are in Germany on this particular day and want to join in with the singing, make sure you learn the right songs in advance. Here are some youtube links for the most important Martinslieder:

Sankt Martin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrFwtGQyjfM
Ich geh mit meiner Laterne:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oixRjkUsV1g
Laterne, Laterne:        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cV1o_JlgWY

As you will find out, the songs are fairly repetitive and easy to learn!

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