I remember my first Martinstag experience. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. Little children with beautiful lanterns singing as they walked through the tiny village following a man dressed as St. Martin on a white horse.
I lived in tiny village then and the whole village turned out to sing along. I remember I got quite emotional and teary eyed.
Hey, I had just had a baby. I suspect the hormones were still raging. But I do remember thinking to myself that I just couldn't wait to experience it with my daughter.
Martinstag (St Martin's day) is celebrated all over Germany. It is in honour of Saint Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier and later a Bishop.Venerated for his kindness and humility. Legend has it that his humble act of kindness; cutting his cloak in half to share with a half naked beggar during a snow storm brought him to Christ. It is said that when he dreamt that night, it was of Jesus wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier. Though he is yet to be baptised, he has clothed me."
Each region has its own peculiar tradition. For where I live NRW, an evening before his feast day is marked with children walking in processions. They carry lanterns and sing 'Martin songs' behind a man on horseback dressed as St. Martin. At the end of the procession, a Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.
My Sankt Martintag experiences were never as beautiful as the first-time. In fact it did take a few disastrous turns after I moved out of the Village. From the first cringe worthy one, where my daughter insisted I take her back up lantern with her and sign along. I did and other parents did look at me like I was crazed.
Which leads me to Tip 1. Sankt Martin is a kids only experience.
You are only there for security.Do not parade around with an extra Lantern. You will look stupid.
Next tip; 2.Eat well and feed your child before.
Although it is on a regular school day and the kids may even have school the next day, It can be quite a long event.
From the long procession, to other activities at the end of the procession; a bonfire or a play. You will be done by night time and you will be hungry and so will your child. And if that happens disaster will follow! No one wants to be around a grumpy hungry child at night. So pick them up a little early and even if they say they are not hungry before you go. They are lying! (The little fibsters) It is out of excitement. Feed them! Or you will be sorry! (Speaking from experience)
3.Buy the Kindergarten or Schule Brezel.
The Brezel is part of the tradition. You will get a letter or note to order it. Please for the love of God. Pre-order!
Your child will want it, even though he or she has eaten. If you have the option to buy after the Martin's Procession also known as Umzug (which you may not) Great, don't forget to take money! But I won't advice it. It may be a hassle.
Why am I sharing this tip? Cue in my Martinstag experience when my child was four. I got the 'Brezel Note' forgot to order and I didn't carry cash to the procession.
Big mistake! Biggly! Biggly!
Picture me and a hungry, wet, four year old. Who is normally very well behaved (I may add) screaming "BREZEL BREZEL" Don't be me order it.
Why a wet four year old? Tip number four; 4.Prepare for rain. Why? Because it always seems to rain on the day.
Check and recheck the weather reports for it. Umbrellas and autumn wellington boots are a must if it does. As well as warm rainproof jackets. This is non negotiable because if it doesn't rain, the weather does dip cold really quickly during autumn.
A cap and a scarf are always a good idea and I dare say take gloves for your child depending on how cold it is, remember their tiny hands will be holding out the lantern.
Light vests like the one you keep in your car are also important as you will be walking though the street and it also does get dark quickly in as well.
For the lantern, do take a transparent rubber bag to prevent it from getting wet. You can secure it with a rubber band.
That bring us the tip five; The Lantern Tips;
Do buy the Lantern stick in advance (some places run out). Have batteries at the ready and perhaps an extra lantern stick, They do seem to spoil so easily. Please test it at the shop after purchase and definitely the day before.
Do take cello tape or rubber band to keep the lantern from falling of the stick and in place. The children normally make the lantern in school or kindergarten. In some kindergartens, they have a special day where parents come with the kids and make the lantern together. It is a nice experience but when you can't make the time. There are already made ones in shops like Woolworths and Kik. If that is what you are doing please get them on time. You can also recreate the whole making of the lanterns experience at home with a DIY lantern Kit from ALDI. I find them to be a whole lot more durable than the already made ones.
If your child has the option of leaving the lantern in School/Kindergarten. Please leave it there, unintentional destruction might ensue if you take it home. And remember to pick it up, or take it along on the day.
Tip 6. Procession Tips; On the day do be early, no one is going to wait for you and save yourself the stress that comes with a disappointed child and looking for parking when everywhere is full if you are driving to the venue.
The procession entails some singing, your child will know the songs. They practice them in Kindergaten and school. You can also learn them here and sing along heartily most Germans know them by heart .
Finally, the last tip I can think of Tip 7; Don't forget to charge your phone and or Camera and take them along for pictures. You will need them. It is a lovely experience despite my long checklist and warnings.
Fast forward to today. My 6th Martinstag in Germany. I think I will do just fine. I will be volunteering so do look out for the pictures on Instagram. Good luck to you and me.
It all went fine. I forgot to take water. My child said she was dying of thirst. Can you imagine?(Mummy fail moment and tip)
Plus, I snorted and laughed right behind my daughter's teacher when a child fell down whilst presenting a flower bouquet. It was nervous laughter. Oh! Horror 😱I hope he doesn't think I am a psychopath!