Special to the Herald Union
In Germany, Nov. 11 is synonymous with St. Martin’s Day, also known as Martinstag or Martinsmas. The tradition surrounds St. Martin of Tours from the fourth century and is celebrated with a candlelight lantern procession for young children, often including music and concluding with a bonfire. However, due to current coronavirus restrictions, there will be no organized celebrations for St. Martin’s Day this year.
According to Carl-Michael Baum, Head of the Citizen’s Department of the Lord Mayor’s Office of Wiesbaden, the legend of St. Martin is that “as a Roman soldier, Martin shared his cloak with a beggar and gave him one half. In later times, when he was a bishop, he did a lot of good things, where the veneration as a saint comes from.” Nadine Bower, USAG Wiesbaden Community Relations Chief, added that “the idea behind St. Martin is that children should learn to be compassionate and share. St. Martin was a wealthy soldier, but he noticed that there was a beggar sitting by the side of the road, almost freezing to death. Even though he knew other people would never do this, St. Martin took his sword and cut his coat in half to give the other half to the beggar. He showed compassion and empathy and didn’t care what other people would say about him.”
Typically, St. Martin’s Day festivities are organized by kindergartens and elementary schools, or their sponsoring associations, and the participants are the respective students of those schools. Baum added that the students, accompanied by their parents or godparents, begin the lantern procession at the school and move through the town; some processions are more elaborate than others and even have a soldier on horseback wearing a cloak, reenacting the legend of St. Martin. Bower noted that children make their lanterns in school in the weeks leading up to St. Martin’s Day: “This year, many Kindergartens and schools made them too, but since they can’t use them in a parade, children are encouraged to put them behind their bedroom windows, so they can be seen from outside.”
Robert Rucinski, child and adult psychiatrist of the Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic’s Behavioral Health department, shared that St. Martin’s Day “is a nice social activity that brings families together.” Rucinski, whose four children were born and raised in Germany, adds, “It’s a tradition for not only the kindergarteners but for the whole family. I kind of wish they had these kinds of things in the U.S.”
Sven Janneck, Liaison Officer for USAG Wiesbaden and Battalion Chief (Einsatzleiter) of Wiesbaden Fire Department (Feuerwehr Wiesbaden), said that there are typically between 80 to 100 St. Martin’s Day events throughout Wiesbaden, but this year, permits are not being approved due to coronavirus restrictions.
Janneck added that typically, “kindergartens will do a small thing on their own with families joining for Glühwein and pretzels, singing songs, somebody playing guitar,” however, this year “families will just have to celebrate it at home with their children.”