Local children to honor Saint Martin

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Each November, local townspeople host a colorful torchlight procession in honor of St. Martin.

St. Martin's Day is Nov. 11, but the dates for celebrations vary from town to town and sometimes take place days before or after. Germans celebrate St. Martin's Day with a procession where children carry candles or battery-operated lanterns through the town.

The children sing St. Martin songs. "Sankt Martin ist ein guter Mann," or St. Martin is a good man, is one of the many songs parents practice with their children to prepare them for the procession.

In some towns, firefighters lead the parade with torches in hand, followed by the town band and a man portraying St. Martin, clad in the uniform of a Roman legionnaire, on horseback. The colorfully illuminated procession ends with a huge bonfire. "St. Martin" then encourages the children and hands out large sugar pretzels.

In some towns, the traditional ceremony ends with an opportunity to win a goose, the popular "St. Martin's Gans," and other prizes, usually at a well-known spot in town, a hall or local fire department. Raffle tickets are usually sold by local firefighters. A limited number of tickets for the goose raffle can also be purchased at the fire department prior to the raffle.

The goose becomes associated with St. Martin's Day because this time of year is when the goose-fattening period ends. After the summer harvest, farmers let the geese find their food on mowed fields. The only cost to the farmer is tending to the geese, but as soon as it gets cold, farmers sell or kill the fattened geese. Parsons demanded geese as payment for the taxes due to them at this time, and the custom developed into a tradition of eating goose on St. Martin's Day.

Who is the man celebrated every year?

According to legend, St. Martin was born early in the fourth century to during the military administration of the Emperor Constantine in Szombathel, Hungary. He led a Christian life growing up and served his time in the Roman army. Although other officers mistreated soldiers and slaves, St. Martin distributed what he could save from his pay to the poor.

While riding outside the gates of Amiens, he encountered a freezing beggar who asked for help, but Martin had already given all his pay to the poor. He drew his sword, slit his tunic in two and gave half to the beggar. The legend states the following night, Christ appeared to St. Martin and said, "What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me." Although Martin was rather modest, his devotion, kindness and fairness were such that his fame spread throughout the country, and he was soon appointed as Bishop of Tours in France for 25 years until he died at 82.

Team Eifel families can participate in local St. Martin's Day parades in their town or another village.

People can ask landlords or local mayors for details about the date, time and starting point of their town's procession. Most parades kick off between 6 and 7 p.m. Since it often gets cold at night this time of the year, it's advisable to wear warm clothes.

Lanterns can be purchased at German stores. They're usually available as animals, especially the St. Martin goose, moons, churches and other motifs. Some parents help their children make their own lanterns. Children who go to German kindergarten usually make them. Sometimes prizes are given away for the nicest homemade lanterns.

Local Saint Martin parade dates:

Landscheid, 6 p.m. Nov. 10 from Neustrasse
Gransdorf, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 from the local church
Wittlich, 7 p.m. Nov. 10 from the Stadtpark city park
Schleidweiler, 6 p.m. Nov. 10 from the community hall
Dudeldorf, 6 p.m. Nov. 10 from the St. Martin Ordorf catholic church
Bitburg-Erdorf, 6 p.m. Nov. 11 from the center of town
Spangdahlem village, 6 p.m. Nov.11 from Burgstrasse
Bitburg-Stahl, 6 p.m. Nov. 14 from the Fire Department House
Dahlem, 6 p.m. Nov.11 from the Saint Hieronymus catholic church and 6 p.m. Nov. 13 from Baasem
Darscheid, 6:45 p.m. Nov. 14 from the local church
Idenheim, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 14 from Dorfplatz
Heilenbach/Schleid, 7 p.m. Nov. 13 from the community hall
Dockendorf, 6 p.m. Nov. 15 from the local church
Echtershausen, 7:15 p.m. Nov. 14 from the community hall