Martinmas Celebration

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Martin. I love Martinmas! It is like a Catholic Thanksgiving and a pre-advent carnivale all wrapped into one. For our family it is the first day of winter and it comes just before the beginning of the penitential season of Advent. I know, I know, winter technically starts on December 21st. But not in our house. For us it is the feast of St. Martin. After this day we start thinking about advent and preparations for Christmas and winter decorations start to make their way out of boxes. Our advent wreath is made after Martinmas as well (if we don't already have one made from last year).

In our house we typically do several things each feast of St. Martin.

1. A Gift of Warmth: If the children are in need of something for winter I do my very best to get it for them on the feast of St. Martin. Usually it is just a new pair of mittens or a scarf tied up with a simple bow and a little note about St. Martin. If we find ourselves with too many coats this is the day we donate them. This year we officially launched the St. Martin Coat Drive where we will be collecting Coats from family, friends, and neighbors to donate to the poor. Here in Oregon it does get quite cold and I see so many homeless without much more than a jean jacket. I cannot imagine what it must be like to go through a winter like that. I have also considered just buying a few coats or sweaters at Goodwill or at a Catholic thrift store and handing them out to the people that beg on the street corners. I have not been organized enough to do it this year, but it would be a fun tradition to start on this day!

2.  Lanterns & a Song: The children make lanterns each year and we sing the traditional St. Martin song from Germany (translated of course). The version linked above is missing the final verse which is roughly translated:

St. Martin lies down quietly to rest,
In a dream the Lord appears.
He says:  Thank you, horseman,
for what you did to me. 

You can see the music and most of the lyrics here.  

We have never had the pleasure of celebrating with other families but that would certainly add to the fun. A bonfire and treats for the children are traditional on St. Martins Day as well. Because the days are getting darker now the lanterns add some wonderful cheeriness to the day and the song is very catchy.   

The lanterns are usually made of paper mache or jars. We have not made ours yet this year and we will be spending the afternoon doing just that if I can get this blog post up. Symbols associated with St. Martin such as the goose (traditionally eaten on this feast) and a sword and cloak make good decorations for the lanterns. 

Wondering why the goose is a symbol of St. Martin? Apparently when the townspeople were calling for St. Martin to be made bishop he was hiding hoping to avoid the honor but a goose gave away his location. 

3. A Celebratory Meal: In keeping with the traditions of our medieval Catholic ancestors we have a celebratory harvest meal. While we are no longer medieval, and we are hardly farmers, I think it is important to connect with the traditions of the past and also to remember how God provides for us through the seasons. If we were medieval Catholics living in Europe, the harvest would be in and preparations for winter would be made. So a meal in celebration and thanksgiving is quite apropos. Since we do also celebrate the American Thanksgiving with family and a big turkey dinner it is a little too costly and time consuming to do a second large feast in one month.  I have made serious attempts at transferring the traditional Thanksgiving day to the feast of St. Martin for my family but I have yet to succeed. Generally we simply choose a hearty meal we all enjoy like beef stew and crusty bread with a dessert like apple pie and then we take time to read about St. Martin at the dinner table and to reflect on how all that we have comes from God and through his loving providence.

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