Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saint Martin's Day

Never did I imagine that my vacation postings would go well into the middle of November. No, I'm not done yet, as I have a few days left to go. So, I'm making a brief interruption.

Martinsdag, or St. Martin's Day, is a celebration of Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier in early 300 AD. Legend has it, he was at the gates of a city with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me."

Soon after, he was baptized. He served in the military for another two years until, just before a battle in 336, Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight."

He realized he was in the wrong vocation, and went to the city of Tours to become a monk, then a bishop and after his death on November 11th, he became a saint. From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages much of Western Europe began a 40 day fast the day after November 11th, which was called "the forty days of Saint Martin", ironically enough. On November 11th, St. Martin's Eve, a giant feast was held before the fast began.

Today little children celebrate the holiday by decorating lanterns and going door to door singing songs about Saint Martin and November 11th, receiving candy in return. Riding home this evening it looked a bit like kids were trick-or-treating, with the exception of not wearing a costume and carrying a home-made lantern instead.

My adorable upstairs neighbor boys came by my home with their lanterns later in the evening and sang me some songs. In a way, I found it to be even nicer than seeing children in their clever costumes, which may be because they had to work for their candy by singing.

Fun fact: Martin Luther was named after St. Martin, as he was baptized on November 11 (St. Martin's Day), 1483.

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