‘Walking with my lantern….’ in St. Paul


The German tradition of St. Martin’s Day comes to St. Paul.

Parents, grandparents and a lot of children gathered at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul in the pale daylight of a November Sunday afternoon. St. Paul’s third annual St. Martin’s Day celebration is presented this year by Landmark Center, the Germanic-American Institute and the Twin Cities German Immersion School.

“It’s the first time that we are here,” Ulrike Amme, who attends the event with her daughter and grandchild, says. Forty years ago, she and her husband emigrated from Germany to Minnesota. Now, being a grandmother, she is happy that her grandchild can experience this German tradition. Indeed, a lot of German is audible on this evening. All of the participants seem somehow linked to Germany, having relatives or friends over there.

While their parents at the Landmark Center enjoy a cup of mulled wine, the kids eagerly cut, paint and assemble their lanterns. They just need some kind of paper bag, a stick, twine and a small light and they are basically done with their lantern. But eight-year-old Emily is too nervous to tinker right now. She is one of the students of the German Immersion School who will re-enact the story of St. Martin.

St. Martin of Tours

The Bishop Martin of Tours lived between 317 and 397 CE. Before being baptized, he was a Roman soldier travelling in Gaul. The famous legend says that he cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, in order to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night, Christ appeared before Martin to reveal that he had been the beggar. Later, Martin became a Christian and founded France’s first cloister. Another legend recounts that Martin once hid from the citizens of Tours who wanted to make him Bishop. He hid in a goose coop, but the loud honking of the geese gave him away. Therefore, the symbol of a goose appears often in connection with St. Martin.

On the evening of November 11, in Germany and many other European countries, people celebrate St. Martin with roast goose, bonfires and, particularly in Germany, with lanterns.

“She didn’t want to make a lantern. Since she’s gonna be on stage the whole time, she is nervous about the play,” says her mother.

Tension and excitement fill the air. Till, who is also eight years old and a student at German Immersion School, plays the leading role as St. Martin.

“There was a real competition; you could apply for a position in the play,” his mother says.

The kids enjoy singing, doing handicrafts and eating Kinderschokolade and Weckmänner (some kind of traditional buns). But the best part of the evening is still waiting for them.

After the play, it’s time to switch on the lanterns and go outside, where an adult St. Martin on his horse is waiting for them in the darkness. He leads the hundreds of celebrants in a short parade around Rice Park, singing the traditional Saint Martin’s song “Ich geh mit meiner Laterne…” (Walking with my lantern). Children, parents and grandparents walk in a sea of lantern lights in the already festively illuminated Rice Park.