All you need to know about St Martin’s day (or Laternenfest) as a parent in Germany
What can you expect during the German lantern festival? What are the places to go if you’re looking for a lantern procession? If your child is in Kita in Germany, chances are you will be getting an email towards the end of October about the “Laternenfest” – the lantern festival (also called Sankt Martinstag or Martinstag). Where does this tradition come from? How can you prepare for the Laternenfest as a parent of a Kita kid?
What is the tradition behind the Laternenfest (Sankt Martinstag)?
St Martin was originally a soldier in the 4th century, who later became a monk. He is believed to have cut his cloak in half to give to a beggar. St Martin’s day, aka the lantern festival in Germany is a celebration of generosity and care for the less privileged.
When is St Martin’s day?
St Martin’s day is on November 11th each year but the celebrations like the lantern procession (see below) may differ and can take place anytime in the first half of November.
What do children do in the Kita for the lantern festival in Germany?
St Martin’s day will be prepared days in advance at your child’s Kita, with the children putting together their own lanterns in the Kita. They used to be out of wood, paper and candles, nowadays mostly out of plastic for the lantern stick, paper for lantern shade and an LED light.
Children will probably learn about the origin of the tradition, do some drawings or colorings on the topic.
Children will also learn songs with their teachers, the most common ones being the following (brace yourself for the cheesiness!). It may be a good idea to rehearse some of these for the procession (see below):
What happens during the lantern festival?
Usually you will pick up your child at Kita shortly before the closing time. The children will have their lanterns ready, and the entire Kita including the parents and teachers, will do a lantern procession in the streets (“Laternenumzug”). In most cases, a picnic will be organized either in a park or back in the Kita. For the luckiest amongst you, a bonfire will close the evening before everyone goes home to a warm hot chocolate
How to best prepare for St Martin’s day as a parent?
The central point of the party is the lantern procession. In most Kitas the children will prepare the lantern shade but you as a parent need to bring the lantern stick (“Laternenstab”). These can be found (alongside the lantern shade if you need to provide one) in drugstores like Rossmann, DM or Budni, also in some supermarkets. You should plan to have one lantern for each child (including one for the baby, if you have one toddler and one baby not in Kita yet) – to avoid fights during the procession about who should hold the lantern.
They start appearing towards the beginning of October and you can be sure that stores will run out a couple of weeks before the actual day so grab yours whilst you can. These things break easily so I recommend to either hide it from your child before the big day or buy a second one in case the first one breaks. If you have one leftover from the previous year, better check it’s still working. Nothing worse than a disappointed child with a dead lantern on St Martin’s day. And don’t forget to buy a new set of batteries or charge them before you set off.
The Kita will probably ask you to bring something for the picnic. If that’s the case, here are a few ideas:
St Martin’s Hörnchen (croissants-type of bread)
Weckmänner (man-shaped bread)
Be sure to dress for the occasion, which means: dress warmly, wear gloves and make your child wear some too. Put on some sensible shoes, with a thick sole as it can get really cold and damp at this time of year. You can even bring some warm drinks like herbal tea even if they’re not on the list for the picnic. If your child is sometimes reluctant to walk, you should bring the stroller for the procession just in case.
And finally I recommend bringing some kind of flashlight or even headlight (I know, I know) for the picnic time at least. The thing is, it will be really dark by the time you finish the procession and even though you have the lanterns, there’s nothing worse than trying to find your child in a dark park…
Want more St Martin feeling?
If your child is not in Kita yet but you’d like to participate in the celebrations, or if you can’t get enough of it, some lantern processions are organized throughout Germany and Berlin. You can just join in free of charge, sing-along and feel part of the vibrant tradition. Here is a list of some lantern processions for St Martin’s day in Berlin in 2023. And when you get home, the traditional roast goose, red cabbage and potatoes should be waiting to warm you up.
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Baby in Berlin is a concierge service for international families in Germany offering assistance with the organization of their pregnancy and the paperwork (Elterngeld, Kindergeld etc) related to baby and birth. If you want more tips and tricks about the early family years in Germany, make sure to follow me on social media.