Local children honor Saint Martin: Sabers encouraged to participate

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Local townspeople host a torchlight procession in honor of St. Martin each November. "Sankt Martin ist ein guter Mann," St. Martin is a good man, is one of the many songs parents have been practicing with their children to prepare them for the procession.

Who is the man celebrated for his goodness every year?

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

While riding outside the gates of Amiens, France, 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 following night, Christ appeared to Martin and said, "What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me." Martin felt the Lord's love and was baptized.

After serving two more years in the army, he retired with full honors. 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 his death at age 82

St. Martin's Day is Nov. 11 this year. 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. In some towns, firefighters lead the parade with torches in hand, followed by the town band and a man portraying "St. Martin" on horseback, clad in the uniform of a Roman legionnaire. The children sing St. Martin songs. The illuminated procession ends with a huge bonfire. "St. Martin" then asks the children to follow his lifestyle 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 station. Tickets for the raffle are usually sold at the door by members of the local fire departments. A limited number of tickets can also be purchased at the fire station prior to the raffle.

The goose is 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. 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.

Sabers and their families can participate in local St. Martin's Day parades in their town or another village. People can ask their landlords or local mayors for details about the date, time and starting point of their town's procession.

Most parades begin 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.

The following is a list of nearby event dates: 6 p.m. Nov. 5 in Greverath from the community center; 6 p.m. Nov. 10 in Hupperath from the local church; 6 p.m. Nov. 10 in Plein from the local church; 7 p.m. Nov. 10 in Wittlich from the city market square; 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Orenhofen from the local church; 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Binsfeld from the local church; 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Gladbach from the local church; 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Niersbach from the local church following a short church service; 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Osann-Monzel from the Grundschule elementary school; 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 in Spangdahlem from Burgstrasse; 6 p.m. Nov. 12 in Beilingen from the local church; 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in Platten from the corner of Trierer Strasse and Bergstrasse; and 6 p.m. Nov. 13 in Klausen from the local church. Information on additional Saint Martin parades in the local area will be provided on the Spangdahlem website as it becomes available.