St. Martin’s Day

On November 11th we celebrated Veterans Day but also for the first time we participated in St. Martin’s day here in Germany. St. Martin was a Roman Soldier who became baptized as an adult and became a monk and eventually a bishop. He was known for his quiet life and considered a friend of children and patron for the poor. St. Martin’s day is always celebrated on November 11th and is considered the end of harvest/start of winter. It is also considered the unofficial start of the Christmas Holiday season.

St. Martin’s day is fun for the children as it is tradition for the kiddos to parade in the street carrying lanterns being led by a man on horseback dressed as St. Martin. At the end of the parade is a bonfire and music. Basically it is a big party.

Let’s start with this lantern. Two weeks before St. Martin’s day all the parents were invited to O’s school to make lanterns for the parade. Picture this: 10 children (3 years old and younger) and all their parents put into a small room around a very low child size table. I am 8 months pregnant and getting down to the floor is near impossible. The gathering time was the end of the day so O of course thought I was coming to pick him up, not participate in craft time (despite us talking about it for several days before). He is not impressed by crafts and wants to leave immediately. Once everyone is gathered, the teachers start explaining how to decorate the lanterns and put them together. Of course they are explaining this all in German and my German skills are still terrible. The 2 teachers who speak English aren’t there for this event and the only other parent I know there speaks Italian and some English. So we have a cranky toddler who wants to go home, a very pregnant mom who can barely reach the table, limited understanding of the instructions and lanterns and tissue paper as far as the eye can see. Needless to say…hot mess express! O ended up tearing up some tissue paper and gluing it to his lamp after much debate and we ended up leaving early (to avoid a major meltdown), which is a No-No in German culture. You are expected to come exactly at the time invited and should leave at the time that the event is indicated to end. So if you are invited to something and it says from 3-4pm then you are expected to arrive at 3pm (not a minute later) and stay until 4 pm. I think I got away with it because I was 8 months pregnant but the teachers made sure to announce to the rest of the group why we were leaving early.

We headed home covered in glue but I felt good that O had tried to make his lantern including tearing up paper and using some toddler scissors. Well a few days later I see the other lanterns the parents and children had made. Apparently, it is ok for parents to basically build the lanterns for their kids at this age. The parents had made super fancy looking lanterns with names cut out in tissue paper and one had a forest theme with finely decorated leaves. Then there was ours…. And well it looks like a 2 year old put it together. The teachers called it “shabby chic”.

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On St. Martin’s day, everyone gathered at the school with their lanterns and lantern sticks (a stick with a little battery powered light at the end). Side Note: Apparently they used to use little tea candles in the paper lanterns, so the joke was that no St. Martin’s day is complete until you have a parent stomping out a lantern on fire while a child is crying near by. The children were given this big pastry called Stutenkerl. It is kind of like a sweet bread that looks like a gingerbread man. O LOVED this and it fueled him for the long walk.

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(O with lantern, stick and bread in mouth. Ha!)

O’s school group walked down to a local park where other schools in the area had gathered and then everyone as a large group paraded down the street to meet at a large school yard/open space. This was actually a rather large parade and the police had blocked the roads to allow everyone to pass.

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At the end of the parade in the large open space was a bon fire, music and more food (mostly pretzels). O danced and didn’t want to leave. St. Martin’s day success! We really enjoyed this celebration and look forward to participating next year.

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