Martinstag (St.Martin’s Day/Martinmas) is a religious festival recognised and celebrated in Germany on 11 November. Very popular with children, it is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours who was known as a friend of the children and patron of the poor.
Bonfires and processions
A widespread custom in Germany is to light a bonfire on St.Martin’s Eve, called ‘Martinsfeuer.’ In recent years, the accompanying processions have been staged for almost a fortnight before Martinstag. At one time, the Rhine river valley would be lined with fires on the eve of Martinstag.
Children tend to walk in the processions carrying lanterns, which they have made in school, singing traditional Martinstag songs. Walks usually start at a church and finish in the town square. A man on horseback, dressed like St. Martin, accompanies the children. When they reach the square, a bonfire is lit and pretzels are distributed.
The origin of the procession of lanterns is unclear. To some, it is a substitute for the St. Martin bonfire, which is still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe. It formerly symbolized the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. Even though the tradition of large bonfires are gradually being lost, the procession of lanterns is still widely practised.
Martinsgans / St.Martin’s Goose
This is typically served on the evening of the St. Martin’s day feast, following the procession of lanterns, and most likely evolved from the well-known legend of St. Martin and the geese. (St. Martin of Tours apparently hid in a goose pen to avoid being ordained and was betrayed by the cackling of the geese. St. Martin’s feast day falls in November, when geese are ready for slaughter.) ‘Martinsgans’ is often served in restaurants, roasted, with red cabbage and dumplings. In the Rhineland region, St.Martin’s day is traditionally celebrated by eating roast pork.
This is a pastry, shaped in the form of a croissant, which symbolises both the hooves of St. Martin’s horse and the parting of his mantle. In parts of western Germany these pastries are instead shaped like men (Stutenkerl or Weckmänner).
Resources and ideas
Find additional content for members in Deutsch: Lehren und Lernen.
Learn to sing a traditional St. Martin’s Day song (Laterne, Laterne)
Sing a traditional St. Martin’s Day song (Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne )