It’s Martinmas in 3 weeks from now, on the 11th of November and I want to share with you some of the German traditions we have adopted and created for our own family celebration
Martinmas is mostly known and celebrated in Waldorf-inspired families around the world but it is a tradition in many european countries. Interestingly, it originated in France before it spread to Germany, British Isles, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. In this part of Germany where we live, Rheinland, Martinmas is celebrated in most of the kindergartens, schools and families. We have Martinmas processions in each city or small village.
In our family we have adopted this tradition when we moved to Austria, 7 years ago, before even having children, although I have to say it was only through food. Restaurants in Vienna serve special menus for several weeks and “Martinigansl” (the name this celebration in Austria) is an excellent occasion to meet up with friends and family.
With children, we have made a conscious decision about the holidays and traditions we wanted to adopt as family traditions and we have chosen some from each country we lived in to, when they were in line with our family values.
Here are some ideas to mindfully celebrate Martinmas.
SETTING THE INTENTION
Before starting to prepare or even decide if you want to celebrate Martinmas or not, pause and mindfully ask yourself:
What does this celebration symbolize?
What does it mean to your own family?
What values you want to role model and hope to pass on to your children by celebrating this tradition?
Saint Martin’s story is one infused with values like generosity, empathy, sharing, open heart, kindness. Children usually like to hear it and to replay it in their games.
Each year, after our Martinmas candle lit diner, I tell the story of Martin to my daughter with teh help of a little shadow theater that I made for her and use every year.
To make a shadow theater you need
a frame: a wooden case of wine or a sturdy cardboard box
white silk paper or rice paper
some decorations for the scenery. I made some on black paper for contrast
the Martinmas characters: you can make them out of black paper or you can use wooden figurines. I am using a Holztiger horse and 2 of the Grimm’s 7 friends
a desk lamp to light your shadow theater
You will need to keep only the frame of your wooden case or the cardboard box and glue the paper on one side. The other side need to be open so that you can place your figurines and play the story. If you want you can cut out of black paper some decorative elements for the scenery. I have made a house, a tree and the moon and glued them on the silk paper. And that’s it.
Place a source of light behind the shadow theater to light it from behind. Then you can place the figurines and play the story.
You can also use a much simpler way of storytelling: just playing the story with figurines. You will need one for (Saint) Martin, one for the beggar and one for the horse. You can draw or print the characters of the story and glue on card stock or use some wooden figurines if you have.
Ostheimer who makes beautiful wooden miniatures has a Martinmas set with all the characters inside.
The story does have a religious dimension, but besides that, it conveys global values. You can choose to say (Saint) Martin’s story in different ways, according to your beliefs. You can talk about the religious end of the tale (the fact that Saint Martin of Tours became a bishop) or just present the facts, introducing the story with a phrase like “It is said that…”
We have found interesting books about the German traditions for Martinmas celebrations at our local library :
“Das erste Buch von Sankt Martin” by Erwin Grosche and Miriam Cordes
“Lanterne, Lanterne, da oben leuchten die Sterne” by Dagmar Geisler
“Mein erstes Lanternfest” from Coppenrath
“Ich geh mit meiner Lanterne”
Music is one of the important parts of Martinmas celebration and I can warmly recommend you this CD with beautiful Martin Songs. They are in German and lovely to listen to, whether you speak the language or not.
You can also listen some traditional Martin songs online:
Children love crafting their own lanterns and here in Germany they do so during the week before Martinmas. You can either make paper lanterns or jar lanterns with your children (will write a tutorial soon! :)
You can also make your own beeswax candles for a candle lit Martinmas diner or for your lanterns. Here you can see how we make ours (it’s easy and fun!)
One of the values conveyed by Martin’s tory is sharing so this is a good time to consider giving things away to people in need: warm clothes, food… or take part into volunteer projects for people in need with your children.
Each time I see the Martinmas processions here in Germany I’m amazed by how little children act safely and in a responsible manner around fire. Sometimes there are huge processions of hundreds of children and they carry paper lanterns and real candles inside. All the Martinmas lanterns walks I have take part to with my daughter ended up with a “Martinsfeuer” , a huge bonfire. When trusted and well informed about safety rules, children are capable of safely dealing with fire.
If you can, organize a lantern walk with other children in your neighborhood.
In our Forest playgroup we had an evening lantern walk into the forest and it was one of the most beautiful moments I can remember having spent in a forest.
There are many different food traditions around Europe for Martinmas. Most of them include cooking goose in different ways. Many recipes can be found online.
If you are not eating animals, you can still have a delicious Martinmas diner including seasonal organic vegetables, cooked apples and in fact, any food that can be cut in half and shared, as a symbol of Martin’s story.
In Germany there are special pastries for Martinmas: Martinsmänner (little men made of dough and decorated with raisins) and Martinshörnchen (pastries in form of croissant), depending on the region.
Do you celebrate Martinmas? Would love to hear about your family traditions here or on Instagram