sun, moon and stars…
German readers may translate that in their head into the song commonly sung while walking through their hometowns’ dark, late afternoon streets. Like many of the songs sung during the traditional St Martin’s procession, it refers mainly to the light of the lantern and that a procession takes place, less so about the saint being celebrated.
The story of St. Martin is straightforward. He was a roman soldier (from what is now Hungary) who encountered a beggar while on his horse. He cut his coat in two, giving half to the beggar. That night, he had a dream in which the beggar turned out to be Jesus. The soldier converted to Christianity, left the Roman Army and went to study with a Hilary of Poitiers, who christened him in 315 BCE.
St. Martin later became the third bishop of Tours and was one of the first saints to be given his sainthood for conversion and profession of his faith rather than martyrdom.
His act of riding on a horse with a big coat, which could be cut in two is represented by a rider leading the lantern processions in some places. My village has a separate legend about a donkey, so our procession was led by the village donkey ridden by a costumed child.
The procession usually ends at the local “Martinsfeuer”, a bonfire lit for the occasion. Ours this year obviously helped locals with the disposal of chairs!
How precisely the fire relates to St. Martin remains unclear to me. There was apparently a light procession at his burial, which could explain the lantern procession. The fire could also relate to non-christian traditions around the end of harvest, the darkening nights or the general cold.
You will be relieved to read that the most active appearing volunteer group in our village was well represented. The freiwillige Feuerwehr contributed with a fire engine leading the way, followed by the Jugendfeuerwehr pictured, ahead of the donkey and long line of families with children sporting lanterns. They also supervised the furniture and tree fire and made their very frequent contribution, sales of Bratwurst and Glühwein on this occasion as well as the usual beer.
The celebration of St. Martin on 11 November also provides an excuse to raise the Christmas lights in the village. On this very foggy occasion, it was a helpful guide to the meeting point.