Last week, Halloween. This week, St. Martin’s Day!
I am currently attending a DaF (German as a Foreign Language) class that uses as its content discussions of what is typically German (typisch Deutsch). At one point during the second class meeting, my professor asked the class what aspects of life we consider to be part of culture, and my answer was “Feste und Feiertagen [festivities and holidays].” My professor didn’t add this to the list on the board because he considered my answer to belong to “traditions.” But for me, festivities and holidays of a nation belong to traditions just as much as food does, and food got written down, so I am respectfully annoyed at Mr. Prof. Dr.
But that aside, I recognize the holidays and festivities of a nation as helping to define the culture of that nation since culture includes shared values and beliefs, and the holidays and festivities of a nation celebrate those values and beliefs. Often, these beliefs are religiously connected. In many nations in the world, the religions are more homogeneous than in the US, so these holiday seasons seem even more festive in places like, for example, Germany. However, this is a bit complicated in the U.S. that tries to be inclusive for all the different people and beliefs living within its borders. Yet, an entire nation having the 4th of July off, for example, is a collective experience that praegts the collective attitude of what that day represents. This is of course again a bit complicated when one considers Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that has been celebrated since the U.S. Civil War as a way to bring divided people together. However, it is tainted by it’s colonial origins… and it’s a day of mourning for a few groups in the U.S. while celebrated by many others.
I’m not here to talk about Thanksgiving though, since I’m in Germany and won’t be celebrating that holiday with my family this year (sad face).
But I did get to participate in a traditional German holiday (albeit celebrated a few days early, since it involves little children who shouldn’t be up too late on a school night).
Most people know what St. Nicholas day is, celebrated on the 6th of December,since St. Nick is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. In Germany, a lesser known charitable saint is celebrated in early November by a reenactment and a procession with homemade lanterns.
St. Martin’s Tag.
These images are from the St. Martinszug that I was invited to witness (and be part of!). The Martinszug is one of several rites to celebrate the Saint’s work, which were explained to me in a skit put on by several classmates of the girl whose parents invited me to the Zug. I had the girl on my shoulders for most of the skit, so I couldn’t really follow it, but I think the main idea was that he was charitable.
St. Martin’s Day is on November 11th. Mostly celebrated in Old Bavaria and Austria (and apparently also in Hamburg), it is the memorial day of St. Martin of Tours. He is remembered in Central Europe by numerous rites including the the Martinszug, the St. Martin’s goose dinner, and Martin singing.
In the celebration put on by the Grundschule (elementary school) my friend’s daughter attends, there was the singing, the Zug (with a rider in a large white cape on a live horse, a torch procession and many small children with lanterns), and the goose dinner that consisted of large goose shaped cookies that were cut in half to ensure that there were enough for all the kids. The girl (who also had me hold her lantern a few times throughout the evening) ate her cookie half before I could get a photo- so sorry, no photo of half goose cookie.
But I did get a lot of photos of the beautiful lanterns, some bought, most homemade, and I had my first cup of Gluhwein (delicious warm, spiced wine). I also froze my butt off since it was in the low 30s and I still have my Florida mentality…
It was a pleasure to be part of! And now I feel like I’ve gotten a good dose of authentic German culture (sans Hello Kitty lantern… though, if we want to get into a discussion of culture, culture changes so…wait, I wanted to end this post, not start that discussion).