Saint Martin’s Lantern Walk – A Swiss Tradition
Text by Daniela Sustac
“Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne…“
This is what my daughter started singing in October.
And led me to discover another Swiss tradition: the Saint Martin’s Lantern walk.
The Legend of St. Martin
The legend says that Martin, a soldier on horseback, encountered a freezing beggar one winter. The soldier used his sword to cut his coat in half to share it with the beggar.
That night, Martin dreamt that Jesus thanked him for his generosity. And the next day, he discovered that his coat had become whole again.
Martin subsequently became a monk well-known for his kindness. And later, a Bishop of Tours and then a patron saint of the poor.
St. Martin Today
These days, young children celebrate St. Martin in German-speaking countries by taking a special walk on or around the 11th of November.
Indeed, this was a big event at my daughter’s Kindertageseinrichtung (Kita/daycare).
The children spent time building and decorating their lanterns and learning the songs. And the Kita invited the parents to join a parade with the children one November evening at just past 5 pm when it was dark outside.
Adults and children walked and sang the following:
“Ich gehe mit meine Laterne und meine Laterne mit mir,
Dort oben leuchten die Sternen und unten leuchten wir”,
Which translates to
“I walk with my lantern, and my lantern walks with me,
The stars shine up there, and we shine here”.
After a short round around the block, we made a big circle and sang another song, “St. Martin, St. Martin”.
And then, one more time, the Laterne song.
Sharing fresh waffles.
St. Martin shared his coat with the beggar; the Kita invited us to some fresh waffles. Yummy!
My daughter was so excited afterwards that she did another lantern run in our apartment.
I turned the lights off and took a video to share this unique tradition with her grandparents.
St. Martin in Germany
My niece and nephew, who live in a village in Germany, had an even more majestic “Lantern Walk”.
The authorities stopped traffic on the main streets. Also, two decorated horses with lights led a 1.5 km-long parade.
Afterwards, the children shared Martinsgänse (baked sweet bread in the shape of a goose) and pretzels. Meanwhile, their parents bought sausages from the school barbecue.
My daughter and I can’t wait to welcome and celebrate this event again next year.