Friday, November 5, 2021

Celebrating Martinmas: The Feast of St. Martin

Next Thursday, November 11, is not only my birthday, but it also one of my favorite celebrations and observances of The Year of the Lord,  Saint Martin's Day or Martinmas.  

Martinmas celebrates the selfless giving impulse exemplified by St. Martin of Tours, a soldier in the Roman army. St. Martin is the patron saint of beggars, drunkards, and the poor. His feast day falls during the wine harvest in Europe, and because of this, he is also the patron saint of wine growers and innkeepers.

Born into a pagan family in what is now Hungary around AD 316, Martin grew up in Lombardy (Italy). Coming to the Christian faith as a young person, he began a career in the Roman army. But sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was "Christ's Soldier". He founded several monasteries that served the sick and poor.

One day in November he rose early in the morning and rode from his simple room into the city of Amiens, Gaul. Frigid rain pelted against his face and it was so dark a lantern barely lit his path. Suddenly, his horse stopped at the city gates. A poorly-clad beggar stood beside the path with his hands stretched out asking for help. But St. Martin had nothing to give the beggar. In spite of his high position in the army, he lived in poverty, only serving the poor, the sick and those in need of consolation. But St. Martin's compassionate heart was inventive. Swinging his warm red soldiers' cloak off his back, he cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. That night he had a dream in which Christ appeared dressed in the half cloak and said, "Today you have shared your cloak with me, from now on you are to be called St. Martin." 

Eventually Martin was named the Bishop of Tours in Western Gaul (France). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the gospel throughout rural Gaul. Incidentally, on St. Martin's day in 1483, the one day old son of Hans and Margarette Luther was baptized and given the name, "Martin" Luther.

In honor of St. Martin people everywhere gather at night and carry candle filled lanterns on a walk, singing lantern songs and sharing light and warmth of the community. The festival calls on us to remember the light within our lives that we can share to light the way for others. Such a beautiful celebration.

St. Martin’s Feast is much like the American Thanksgiving – a celebration of the earth’s bounty, and yet children were also known to dress up as beggars and carry lanterns through the streets asking for sweets, which sounds much like Halloween.

Tradition says that if it snows on the feast of St. Martin, November 11, then St. Martin came on a white horse and there will be snow on Christmas day. However, if it doesn’t snow on this day, then St. Martin came on a dark horse and it will not snow on Christmas.

Lantern Walk

The sunlight fast is dwindling
My little lamp needs kindling
Let your light shine bright
Into the darkest night
Little lantern guide me 
With your precious light

A lantern walk after dark is a very special experience for a young child, or even as an adult. This festival is beautiful and powerful whether you gather with community to walk and sing together or just go out in the backyard for a quiet lantern-lit walk with your family.

Lanterns are easy to make with just a few supplies and a tealight candle - here are four ways to make lanterns for Martinmas.

Glass Lanterns
Take an empty glass jar and cover with bits and scraps of colorful tissue paper using paintbrushes dipped in mod podge or white glue mixed half-and-half with water. Use three pipe cleaners to make a handle: Twist two pipe cleaners together to make a long handle and attach them to the third pipe cleaner. Twist the third pipe cleaner below the rim of the jar in a tight circle. I love this idea, and I'm going to book mark it for next year so I can be on the lookout for the perfect glass jar!

Old Fashioned Turnip Lanterns (or Small Pumpkins)
Use a knife to carve out a turnip into a lantern - just like a jack-o-lantern but much smaller and portable! There are some beautiful examples of turnip lanterns, here.

Balloon Lanterns
Blow up balloons and put them in bowls to keep them steady. Use paintbrushes and a mixture of half white glue, half water to stick on many layers of colorful tissue paper. Take your time and add lots of layers, being careful not to leave any thin spots. You can also add pressed leaves or flowers. Let it dry at least overnight and then pop the balloons and slowly pull them out. Use a hole punch to make two holes and fashion a handle from thin wire or pipe cleaners.

Paper Lanterns
Here is a rather involved but beautiful tutorial for a paper lantern. And here is another using some of the same techniques, but with a watercolor picture that shines through. Not to mention this blog, I'm going to have to go back and spend some time here.

Star Lanterns
This tutorial will guide you in making little star lanterns, which we made several times over the years. I love to decorate the dinner table with them on Martinmas and eat by candlelight. The fact that it's also my birthday, adds a lovely touch to the celebration. There a little tricky to make at first, but after you get the hang of it, they move pretty quickly. Here's a tutorial for another that I've never tried, but it is lovely! 

St. Martin's Beggar Bags
Crumple simple brown lunch bags to symbolize simplicity and poverty. Traditionally they are filled with walnuts, almonds, chestnuts and figs, but you could use any nuts or dried fruit that you have on hand. These are a fun treat for the children.

Give to the Poor
One of the ways we have celebrated Martinmas in the past, and I will most likely doing again this year is by donating warm clothes to our local homeless shelters. 

A Special Gift
Another lovely tradition I read about recently was gifting your children a new hat, scarf and mittens for the upcoming winter months in honor of the warmth St. Martin shared.

Pray for the Military
St. Martin was a Roman soldier and November 11th is Armistice Day and Veterans Day.

Share a Special Meal
Martinmas is the end of fall harvest, so breads and cakes are common. Since it's my birthday, cake is definitely in order. Aside from that I haven't decided what our meal will be. Being my birthday complicates things a little, because typically I would make one of my favorites, but I also love the idea of a simple meal, in honor of the poor and simple people that St. Martin served, so I'm thinking something along the lines of a soup or stew with bread

Goose is often eaten in Germany. The legend goes that whilst trying to avoid being ordained bishop, St Martin hid in a goose pen only to be betrayed by the squawking of the geese. Around Europe, many people still celebrate Martinmas with roast goose dinners. Since cooking a goose is pretty much out the question, the closest thing I could think of to match that is chicken, and  right now I've got my eye on this, Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken Soup.  But beef dinners are popluar on St. Martin's day in Ireland and the UK, and while this recipe is neither Irish or British, it does use beef and combines my love for anything mexican and with some heat, Red Chili Beef Stew.  So while I don't have a set menu, one thing is for sure, it will be delicious!

Rhymes and Folklore
As with so many of these feasts days, there are several rhymes and predictions, if you will, associated with St. Martin's day. Here are a few I've gathered if you want to add a little fun to your celebrations.

"If the wind is in the south-west on St Martin’s Day, it will stay there right through to Candlemas in February, thus ensuring a mild and snow-free winter."

“Thunder in November means winter will be late in coming and going”

“If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.”

"Ice before Martinmas,
Enough to bear a duck.
The rest of winter,
Is sure to be but muck!”

Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:11 am on November 11). Reading this always takes me back to a very special night in my life, ten years ago this November 11, in fact. I turned 50 on 11-11-11 (November 11, 2011), and as a special celebration my girls and I stayed up and celebrated my birthday at 11:11 p.m. It is one of my fondest memories. Ten years later and turning sixty this year, which is incomprehensible to me, I'm more likely to entertain celebrating over an early lunch, say at 11:11 a.m. :)

Bon Fires
Another lovely way to celebrate the day is with a bonfire, but since we live in an apartment complex, I'm fairly sure that would be frowned upon. :) But if you're able it might be a fun setting to return to after your lantern walk. Perhaps even set up a table nearby and if you have power place a warming soup or stew in the crock pot and. have bowls and spoons for everyone to serve themselves and enjoy their meal around the fire.

And if this isn't enough inspiration already, I've gathered a few links with additional ideas,

And in my searching, I came across this post which highlights the other feast days in November, a few which I usually observe that got by me this year, such as All Souls and All Saints Day. Every year I vow to do better, but in all sincerity I've finally learned you can't do it all, or at least, I can't! But there are a few days in this lovely rhythm of life that I rarely allow to pass and St. Martin's Day is one. So I hope if this if your first time hearing of it, or if you've observed it before, that you're leaving with some ideas and inspiration for celebrating this lovely day!


Anonymous said...

Kimberly I am so happy that i found your blog through Elizabeth at Pondering From The Inglenook. love this post on ST. Martin of Tours . When I lived in Brooklyn The is a church ST> Martin Of Tours. Thank You for this wonderful post.

Kimberly Lottman said...

Marion, I am go glad you enjoyed the post, AND found my blog! I'm looking forward to getting to know you better! <3