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Procession alternatives : Why St. Martin’s Day is sacred for so many in the Rhineland

Procession alternatives : Why St. Martin’s Day is sacred for so many in the Rhineland

The custom of St. Martin's is part of the cultural heritage of the State of NRW. Children have always shown a lot of creativity in the celebrations. For centuries, 11th November has been an important day in the calendar.

Merciful and with a big heart for children, Saint Martin is the home saint of the Rhinelanders. He brings light to the darkness and shares what he has – basically just a really nice guy. But as dear to the people in the region as the custom is, they have known for a while now that this year everything must be different. The pandemic is taking its toll. And yet, this is the 100th anniversary of the first Martin's procession in Bonn. At that time Josef Weiden rode high on a proud grey horse in front of the children's torchlight procession. He was dressed as a Roman soldier and shared his cloak. Exactly as the legend of St. Martin, who became bishop of Tours in 371, tells us.

In 2020, there will no processions, no going from house to house and singing Martin's songs. In many places this will be replaced by pretty lanterns in the windows. In Rheinbach, the Himmeroder Hof will be illuminated. In Bad Honnef-Selhof, all the children put their lanterns in the windows on Friday, just as the bells rang for the evening. In Rauschendorf, the Association of Customs invites visitors to take evening walks through the illuminated streets. Residents in Hennef-Geisbach also decorated their gardens with lanterns and lamps. A raffle was held in Siegburg, where schools and nurseries could win a corona-compliant visit from St. Martin.

The fact that St. Martin's Day is sacred to the Rhinelanders is also demonstrated by the campaign to have this traditional custom upgraded to a UNESCO intangible world cultural heritage. The applications have been written. A first step towards this goal was completed on 25 October 2018, when the initiators received the award for Intangible Cultural Heritage of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Düsseldorf. The symbols of the custom include the St. Martin's goose, St. Martin's fire, lanterns, torches and the Weckmann pastry.

St. Martin's Day or Martinmas is celebrated around the world on 11 November as a day of commemoration of Saint Martin. It is included in the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican calendars. It is only in the last 150 years that it has been understood as a reminder of the legend according to which Saint Martin cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar.

But even in the Middle Ages, the day marked the beginning of fasting before Christmas. Similar to before carnival, the people were allowed to draw on the plentiful for one last time.

Since ancient times, the date has also marked the end of the agricultural season. The cattle were driven into the stables for the winter and the first wine was ready for tasting. The tithe was due and taxes had to be paid, in the past also in kind. This is where the geese came in, which became known as Martin’s geese.

Leasehold and interest payments also had to be made on that day and employment contracts ended. The Martin's customs developed out of these two traditions of Christian and social life, such as the St. Martin's fire and the children's walks. They went from house to house and asked for small gifts.

It is conclusive that this took place on the eve of November 11th, because in earlier times the next day began with the onset of darkness the night before. The earliest mention of the first wine tasting on Martini in the German-speaking area is found in the Latin poem Archipoeta from 1165, dedicated to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Over time, the excesses on 11.11. took on a similarity with Shrovetide. In this respect, it is no wonder that this date was later chosen for the official start to the new carnival session.

A glance in the photo archives shows that in Bonn and the region, children were always given special consideration at the St. Martin's festival and Saint Martin also visited kindergartens and children's homes. When Bonn was the capital city, however, the Federal Chancellor was also remembered - Helmut Schmidt received a Weckmann pastry from the man portraying Saint Martin.

(Original text: Jörg Manhold, Translation: Caroline Kusch)