St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag) on November 11 is a religious observance in Germany that is particularly popular with children. It is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours and celebrates modesty and altruism – both values commonly associated with the Saint. As the holiday was traditionally followed by a fast that lasted until Christmas, many traditions on St. Martin’s Day center on food.
In observance of St. Martin’s Day, many children build their own lanterns in the run-up to November 11. In the evening on St. Martin’s Day there are lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge) in towns and cities all over Germany. Often they are led by an actor impersonating the Saint, usually dressed up as a Roman soldier riding on a horse. At the end of the procession people gather around a large bonfire to sing songs dedicated to St. Martin, eat sweet pastries and drink mulled wine (Glühwein). Many Germans celebrate St. Martin’s Day with a festive meal where roasted goose or duck (Martinsgans) is traditionally served as the main course.
Saint Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) initially worked as a Roman legionary but was later appointed the third Bishop of Tours. According to lore, he was a modest and altruistic man. The legend about his saving a homeless person from freezing to death by giving him half of his cloak is known to children in all parts of Germany.
The tradition to eat a goose (today often replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is thought to be based on the medieval tax system. November 11 was pay day, and often the tax debt was paid with a goose. It is believed that this is also the reason why geese play such an important role in legends about the Saint. Another popular story is about a flock of geese who betrayed Martin’s hiding place as he was trying to hide from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop.
Note: St. Martin’s Day is not a public holiday in Germany. Offices, banks, schools and business are open as usual. Public transport runs on a normal schedule. The lantern processions may cause minor delays.
Lantern Walks in the U.S.:
Bay Area Kinderstube Annual Laternenfest & Parade
Date and time: 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: Bay Area Kinderstube, 842 Key Route Boulevard, Albany, CA 94706
German Language School of Marin Laternenfest in Novato
Date and time: 5:30 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: Pioneer Park, 1007 Simmons Ln, Novato, CA 94945
German Language School of Marin Laternenfest in Santa Rosa
Date and time: 5:30 p.m. November 11. 2017
Location: 1315 Pacific Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
GISSV San Francisco Laternenfest
Date and time: 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. November 12, 2017
Location: 4 Funston Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129
Annual German School Campus Lantern Fest & St. Martin’s Parade
Date and time: 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. November 18, 2017
Location: Old World German Village, 7561 Center Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92647
German International School Chicago’s 10th Annual Laternenfest & St. Martin’s Parade
Date and time: 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: DANK Haus German American Cultural Center , 4740 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
Saint Martin’s Day Celebration in St. Paul
Date and time: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. November 12, 2017
Location: 75 5th St. W, St. Paul, MN 55102
CityKinder St. Martin’s Lantern Walk in Hoboken|Jersey City
Date and time: 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. November 10. 2017
Location: Pier A Park100 Sinatra Dr. Hoboken, NJ
CityKinder St. Martin’s Lantern Walk in Prospect Park
Date and time: 4:45 p.m. – 6 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: Prospect Park, 62 West Drive, Brooklyn
St. Martin’s Day Family Celebration with the Dayton Liederkranz
Date and time: 4:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: 1400 E.Fifth St., Dayton, OH 45402
The German Society of Pennsylvania’s St Martin’s Parade
Date and time: 5 p.m – 9 p.m. November 12, 2017
Location: The German Society of Pennsylvania, 611 Spring Garden Street – Philadelphia, PA 19123
The Dallas Lantern Parade
Date and time: 1 p.m. November 11, 2017
Location: Texas Motorplex, 7500 W U.S. 287, Ennis, Texas 75119
Tickets and more information here.