As Halloween concludes and we move into November, it seems like American culture immediately plunges into the extravagant and over-the-top Christmas bonanza (even before Thanksgiving, my goodness). Us people in the States may not be aware but there is actually a wonderful European holiday, also ending in ‘-mas,’ that can shift our attention away from the premature Christmas celebrations in early November: Martinmas, or St. Martin’s Day! This holiday falls on the eleventh of November, the Funeral date of St Martin of Tours and is celebrated in Germany and a few other European countries. The tradition in Germany is that there are large bonfires, consumption of a St. Martin’s goose, and lanterns are made by the children before embarking on a procession. It is this final practice that the Bates German department celebrated a few days after the eleventh of November on frigid Friday.
The purpose of this event was to engage local Lewiston little ones with this wonderful holiday by partaking in the lantern making process, letting their creative juices flow. Professors Jakub Kazecki and Raluca Cernahoschi organized this event with the help of the department’s teaching assistant Alexandra Efstathiades who organized a baking session to concoct traditional german pastries called Weckmänner. The crafting station consisted of a wide range of lantern colors, festive papers, cotton balls, speckles and much more. The youngster that I assisted designed his first lantern to look like an evil spider and then performed an aesthetic makeover on the second by covering it head to toe in cotton balls. When the lanterns were complete, we all sang the customary song “Laterne, Laterne” with musical assistance from two German students featuring the violin and the guitar. Since it was quite chilly on the Bates campus, a procession did not occur. Instead, the kids were able to take their lanterns into dark room to see their work shine in the “night” sky.
There was another component of the festivities that didn’t involve St. Martin’s Day traditions but was still quite exciting. The German professors had set up an array of translated German children’s books for us students to read to the kids. Granted, this is not a tradition of Martinmas but combining friendly college kids with youngsters is a great opportunity to demonstrate the joy of reading. Additionally, the selected books had wonderful illustrations. My compatriot and I explored a book called Armstrong by Torben Kuhlmann where a mouse was determined to prove that the moon is made of stone and not cheese like all the other mice believe. It was a light read with brilliant illustrations including a brief history on space exploration history. Having a that pair, a college student and a child, can make reading seem less like your parents are forcing you to do it, and instead a fun thing that two friends can learn from.
Overall, I thought the event was quite enjoyable. Hands on activities are great ways for young people to expand their cultural horizon because it gives them something to do. If they went to a lecture or a presentation, boredom would ensue and the kids would walk away with no new knowledge. While our Friday activity doesn’t provide an in depth discussion about the cultural practices surrounding St. Martin’s Day, at least these youngsters may happen to hear about the holiday again and go “Oh wait, that’s the holiday where we make lanterns.” If they are capable of merely that, a good deed has been done because our youth are exploring and interacting with different parts of the world.
So the next time your Mom sends you a mid-November picture of her latest Frosty the Snowman sweater, tell her to pump the brakes. Mr. Claus and his posse can wait because we can all use a little Martinmas at this time of year. Send her the Weckmänner recipe, call up the neighborhood kids for lantern making, and have a wicked procession for this very warm holiday.
If this event sounded like a really interesting experience and you are sad that you weren’t able to attend, don’t fret! Professors Kazecki and Cernahoschi are committed to putting on more events that everybody, including non-German students, can attend. To keep up to date with what is happening throughout the year, one can follow @German_at_Bates on Twitter and like/follow the Facebook page @GRSBates. Happy Martinmas to all.