In Germany, a host of customs has sprung up from the celebrations for St Martin, the Roman soldier turned saint for sharing his coat with a beggar. On or around 11 November, lantern walks, bonfire, a goose roast and other treats are some of the traditions for Saint Martin’s Day and a recipe for a “gemütlich” (that’s German for hygge) start into winter.
The most iconic tradition is the lantern procession, for which children make their own paper lanterns in schools, churches or at home ahead of time. After the sun sets, young and old come together to walk through the town, singing songs and carrying their colourful lanterns. Sometimes the procession is led by a rider dressed up as St Martin, who sits on a white horse wearing the costume of a Roman soldier with armour, sword and red cape.
St Martin’s play
St Martin is famous for the story of donating his cloak to a beggar — the story goes that St Martin saw a beggar in the street, freezing in the cold, and decided to cut his cloak in half and give it to the beggar. The processions end with the reenactment of this story.
In rural areas, everybody gathers around a bonfire after the walk, where pastries and other treats such as Stutenkerl,Weckmann or a Martinshörnchen are handed out to the children. In some regions of Germany children go from house to house with their lanterns, knock on doors and sing Martin songs in exchange for candy.
Roast goose feast
Legend has it that Martin had a special relationship to geese, who were either interrupting his sermon or giving him away when he hid among them. Whichever way the story goes, the geese were roasted, and to this day the traditional St Martin’s Day dish is Martinsgans (St Martin’s goose).
Where to go on a traditional German lantern walk in the UK
To let their British friends in on the fun of this late autumn favourite, the German churches in the UK organise lantern walks throughout November. Here is where you can join them: