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Celebrating Martinmas


Throughout the year, Waldorf schools around the world celebrate festivals to connect us with the cycle of nature. These festivals help establish a natural yearly rhythm for the children and strengthen our community. The festival of Martinmas is traditionally celebrated on November 11, between the fiery out breath of Michaelmas and the deep in breath of the winter season. Martinmas honors, in a universal way, the story of St. Martin, patron saint of beggars and outcasts.

From France comes the story of St. Martin, who as a young man passed under an archway in the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The man was barely clothed, and shivering with cold. On seeing him, the young Martin took his cape from his own shoulders, tore the garment in half, and covered the poor man to warm him. The following night Martin had a dream in which he saw an angel wearing this same piece of his cape. The experience confirmed in him his devotion to all mankind regardless of their station in life. Martin went on to become patron saint of beggars and outcasts, and was known for his gentle and unassuming nature and his ability to bring warmth and light to those in need.

As we prepare inwardly for the darkest time of the year, it is increasingly important for each of us to kindle warmth and light in our hearts.

Martin’s cloak can remind us to share with those in need. The gently glowing lanterns of Martinmas will give way to the candles of the advent spiral as we draw nearer to the Solstice, showing how our inner light must shine ever brighter against the cold. As nature sleeps during the cold of winter, we must be inwardly wakeful and allow our warmth to radiate back into the world!

Diana Carey and Judy Large describe this celebration in their book “Family, Festivals and Food” as an evening when Martinmas “is remembered in many French households with a festival of lanterns, carrying light throughout the darkened home, singing songs, and sharing a simple cake, perhaps decorated with the symbol of the sun.”

This is a quiet, meditative celebration. Following the lighting of the lanterns, the children will walk through the play yard with their class, singing lantern songs. Parents are asked to walk with their children (or close behind them) and to help preserve the mood by joining in the singing and encouraging the children in reverence and calm. As you leave the Martinmas Lantern Walk, we encourage you to take the mood of the festival home with you be leaving quietly once the festival is over and sharing the story of the “Lantern Prince” with your child before bedtime that evening (copies provided at the festival).

To learn more about the meaning and essence of this celebration we invite you to read “Saint Martin: Between Michaelmas and the Holy Nights” by Michael Martin.

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