In the US we commemorate Veterans’ Day on November 11th, but 11/11 is reserved for the celebration of St. Martin’s Day in much of the Germanic and Dutch world. We enjoyed a bit of Germany in Los Angeles on Saturday night as hundreds of German children paraded through a park at dusk with homemade lanterns.
Laternelaufen on St. Martin’s Day: A Bit Of Germany In Los Angeles
Legend has it that around 345AD a Roman solider named Martin of Tours gave a beggar half of his red cloak to protect the man from freezing to death. St. Martin later converted to Christianity and became a bishop after a vision left him feeling a call to ministry to protect poor people.
In the Germanic world, St. Martin’s day came to recognize the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter. Traditions included killing the fatted goose, enjoying the first wine of the season, and a procession of lanterns.
Laternelaufen, literally “walking with lanterns,” takes places at dusk. While Laternelaufen is a memorial to St. Martin (the procession of children with homemade lanterns is led by a child with a red cloak riding on a horse), it is not clear when or why lanterns became part of the tradition (many believe it encompasses the idea that light overcomes darkness, a tenet of the Christian faith and other faith systems).
But like so many traditions, the truth of the backstory takes a backseat to the tradition itself, which continues to this day. There is a strong contingent of Germans and German-Americans in Los Angeles and hundreds gathered for food, fellowship, and the Laternelaufen on Saturday evening.
As the light dissipated, the lanterns were lit and we walked to and fro through the darkened park, led by a horse. It was a jovial time and the ability to honor a German tradition over 5,000 miles away brought a tear to my eye.
If you ask my why I love living in Los Angeles, this is certainly one such reason: the diversity of this place includes a rich diaspora of nearly every tribe and tongue, including Germans. There was something special about gathering with hundreds of other Germans and German-Americans to celebrate the feast of St. Martin’s and to sing familiar tunes as our children marched through the dusk with their lanterns led by a boy on a horse with a red cape.