Farolitos – St. Martin in Madrid

Laternen, Stutenmäner, Laugenbrötchen und Punsch =)

Sitting on the sofa in our living room, a cup of “Punsch” in one hand, a “Laugenbrötchen” in the other hand and a huge smile on my face, I marvelled at how a silly children’s celebration could be so much fun and make me so very happy…What celebration? St. Martin – St. Martin of Tours was a French soldier who is said to have been extremely generous and kind, who became bishop at a later point in his life and who was buried on the 11th of November 397 thereby giving rise to a traditional celebration on that day in many parts of Germany and a few other countries. In our village in Germany we always went around the streets with little lanterns singing songs about St. Martin or about ourselves and our beautiful lights – the procession is often accompanied by a band and a rider on a horse representing St Martin.

the lanterns =) I’m not quite certain why it became a tradition to make lanterns and walk around with them – some sources say it has to do with the lanterns that were lit at the funeral or that people visited St. Martin’s grave with lanterns – whatever the reason, they’re pretty and likely to remain tradition – though the candle has been exchanged for an electric light by most parents =)

Sometimes one of the stories about St. Martin is re-enacted – as I did for my guests tonight, throwing a sweater over my shoulders to serve as a soldier’s cape and mounting a broomstick, my trusty steed – I told them how St. Martin was riding through town one winter’s day when he encountered a poor man in rags lying in the snow…the man asked for help and St Martin, not having money, food or clothes to give, took out his sword and cut his cape in two, giving one half to the man in the snow and thus saving him from freezing to death! The celebration is generally considered as an entertainment for the children and is also meant to teach them the value of sharing and caring for others. It often ends around a bonfire with snacks for everyone – the most typical being “Stutenmänner/Weckmänner” which is a type of sweet bread made with yeast and in the shape of a person. In the south, the salty “Bretzeln” are very common – I chose to make “Laugenbrötchen” instead, they are made from the same dough but are quicker to make since they are just rolled into buns and not into pretzel shape.

The bread may be accompanied by “Punsch” – there are many recipes…my version included various juices, tea, brown sugar, cinnamon, clove and some red wine =) and its served hot, which is why its so popular in the cold season.

singing in the streets… =)

So that’s more or less what St. Martin is about – now as to why it occurred to me to celebrate this tradition in Madrid…well…

  1. I considered it an excellent opportunity for teaching my friends something about German culture
  2. I always LOVED St. Martin as a kid – and never really grew out of it…
  3. I thought it a brilliant excuse for making some German goodies….
  4. I think it’s just fun making a fool of oneself once in a while…acting like a kid, walking around the streets at night with little colourful lanterns and singing children’s songs…besides – there are some cities where EVERYONE joins in, people of all ages – ending up with a crowd of several thousand people…

So I must say, I feel it was a success. I laughed an awful lot – and wonder what the neighbourhood thought of us and of our lanterns…thanks to y’all who shared the experience with me, wouldn’t have been half as much fun without you!


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