st. martin’s day

On November 11th, Germans celebrate the 4th century saint, Martin of Tours, in a special way. Children carry homemade paper lamps from door-to-door, sing songs about St. Martin, and receive sweets in return. (It is like a mixture between Christmas caroling and Halloween!) St. Martin’s Day is celebrated widely by Protestants and Catholics in Germany.

El Greco’s St. Martin and the Beggar
from Wikipedia Commons

For those of you reading who don’t know the story of Martin, allow me to share. Before his baptism into Christianity as a young man, Martin served as a soldier in the Roman army. One very cold day, Martin met a beggar who was scarcely clothed, shivering outside the city gates. Martin was moved to compassion and immediately slashed his own cloak in two, giving the man half, then putting the other half back on himself.

That night, Martin had a dream in which Jesus was wearing the half-cloak and pronounced that it was given to him by Martin, a catechumen. Awaking from this dream, Martin was prompted to go forward with his baptism. He later refused to draw his sword in battle, spoke against heretics in the church, lived as a hermit, founded a monastery, and even later (rather unwillingly) was chosen to be the bishop of Tours. Martin is most known for his charity in the story of the cloak, but also for his hospitality, for his work as a missionary, for freeing prisoners, and for working wonders. (Sources for history: and

To celebrate Martin of Tours, a group of students from the Collegium Oecumenicum gathered with paper lanterns and walked to the houses in our neighborhood. We didn’t go to gather sweets, but rather to collect money for our semester project – supporting the education of two school-children in Africa. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor the legacy of St. Martin!

Our little group was greeted fairly warmly by our neighbors. Most of them allowed us to sing. Two ladies were so delighted by our singing, they asked to hear a second song! Many gave generously and gladly to our collection. (Of course a few people said “No, thank you.” One man came out in his robe to tell us that he and his wife were busy relaxing in the sauna. Ha!)

How could you resist giving generously and gladly to this fine group?

Here is a (rather non-poetic and quick) translation of the text to “Sankt-Martinslied,” the song we sang:

v. 1 – It is already getting dark early in the evening; November is here. We celebrate what St. Martin did with lamps in hand.  We think about the poor man, who Martin once covered with half of his cloak, while he was deeply frightened with need.

v. 2 – The Lord spoke to Martin in a dream, “See, I wear the scrap of your cloak; what you did for the poorest, was given to me.” And Martin followed after Jesus, since he appeared to him. Saint Martin now wanted to serve his neighbor as his brother.

v. 3 – Of holy Martin we sing, because he helped quickly and with courage. We carry lamps for him, his goodness shone brightly. He saw the people near to him. We also want to look around ourselves. We learn from holy Martin to trust one another.

chorus – Saint Martin, Saint Martin, all the people praise you. Saint Martin, Saint Martin, so we too sing today.

I think that it is neat to honor the saints of the Church and the ways that they inspire us in our faith. Of course, in protestant fashion, I believe that all those who are in Christ are part of the sainthood – marked by God’s grace, able to serve and strengthen one another.

I give thanks to God for the communion of saints (in the broadest sense) that surrounds me, that reaches across continents, that inspires and strengthens me. I’m glad to be a part of communities that extend grace to our neighbors near and far. Even and especially to those neighbors we’ve never met.

3 thoughts on “st. martin’s day

  1. Pingback: sights of the last few weeks | internationally engaged

  2. Pingback: intercultural holidays | internationally engaged

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