Sunday, November 11, 2007

St. Martin's Day: A German Tradition

Today we celebrated the St. Martin's Day. After a heady preparation in kindergarten, in which my pre-schooler MC, has been so secretive about the dance practices she's been attending for weeks. And the children proudly created their own lanterns for the said St. Martin's day.

Now what is St. Martin's day? This is a German tradition that according to is:

November 11th is a special day in the U.S., Canada, and German-speaking Europe, but when North Americans are observing Veterans Day/Remembrance Day, most Austrians and German Catholics are celebrating a different kind of holiday. The Feast of Saint Martin, the Germanic Martinstag celebration, is more like Halloween and Thanksgiving rolled into one. Martinstag or Martini commemorates Sankt Martin (c. 317-397), Bishop of Tours, one of the most revered European saints.

The best-known legend connected with Saint Martin is the dividing of the cloak (die Mantelteilung), when Martin, then a soldier in the Roman army, tore his cloak in two to share it with a freezing beggar at Amiens. In the past, Martinstag was celebrated as the end of the harvest season (thanksgiving). For workers and the poor it was a time when they had a chance to enjoy some of the bounty and get a few crumbs from the nobles' table (“einige Kr├╝mel vom reichgedeckten Tisch”). Today in many parts of Europe the feast is still celebrated by processions of children with candle-lit lanterns (Martinslaternen - see the German children's song "Ich geh mit meiner Laterne") and a banquet of roast goose (die Martinsgans).

In former times, Martini was the “official” start of winter and the 40-day Christmas fast. Today Martinstag is the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season in German Europe.
Our celebration started off with a mass in which the kindergarten kids reenacted the story where St. Martin tore his cloak. And then the dance of lights in which MC was one of the dancers. After the mass was the procession in which the kids with their lighted lanterns would march with 'St. Martin,' while singing. Tonight they were treated with a special colorful fireworks from the local volunteer firemen.

The goose, animal symbol of St. Martin, is a common meal around St. Martin's Day. Legend has it that geese betrayed him with their gabbling when he tried to hide in a stall as he was to be appointed bishop.

The real reason that the geese are butchered around St. Martin's Day is that they are ready for harvesting at this time of the year. In this country as well as in the old, goose feathers were used for pillows and featherbeds, quills were used for writing, the eggs were good for baking, the fat was needed for baking and could be eaten on bread, the bird made a great "Braten," and even the wing could be used for dusting.

Since many of the early German settlers did not find the right kind of Christmas tree, a tree on which they could place candles safely, they used the tough part of the feathers to make "feather trees." Goose feather trees have become collectors items. They are made again and can be purchased in speciality stores. They are very expensive but beautiful and can be called the first "artificial Christmas trees."

On the 11th day of the 11th month at exactly 11 minutes past 11 o'clock a.m. is the kick-off of Fasching, Karneval and Fastnacht or Carnival season. For one day revelers are drawn into the streets, before the activities in carnival clubs, street and neighborhood groups, begin in earnest as the preparations for the January/February crazy days, are in full swing.
Now, this is one festival that I always look forward to. I like the creativity when it comes to creating lanterns, I love the kids marching with their lights and the singing, and I like the story of St. Martin. He didnt give his whole cloak, but he divided it between him and the beggar. Just like saying to the world that there is indeed joy in giving, but that there should also be joy left for to enjoy something for yourself. I dont know if I made myself clear with this, let me just tell you this... It is fun being a parent, but it is also fun being wife and husband.


tintin said...

I know what you mean! I love being a mom.

This is the first I've heard of St. martins. Pinoymoms is great! It lets me learn new things everyday.

raqgold said...

hi tintin, i also didnt know that st martin is only celebrated here :) and that this is a signal to start christmas shopping, hehehe

ScroochChronicles said...

Goose instead of turkey!! And what do they do with the foie gras? Pate?

This is a very nice celebration. And unique too. Tayo naman sa Pinas, we have the Undas to kick-off the Xmas holidays. Unofficially nga lang pero that's how it's been di ba :)