November 11th is Saint Martin. Children parade through the streets with lanterns, hear the legends of the Roman soldier sharing his cloak with a beggar. But the lantern processions come from a completely different tradition.

The traditional parades with a horseman and a beggar at the head recreate the historic event of Saint Martin. Children follow the Martinszug with hand-made lanterns and sing Martinslieder.

Celebrations are also celebrated in Protestant regions, but the veneration of Saint Martin became the memory of Martin Luther’s baptism on November 11, 1483.

But the Martin parade is not an “ancient” children’s custom. Rather, the tradition of old, late autumnal fire and light customs is continued. At first, adults with lights paraded down the street.

Only over time did the removals mostly become the responsibility of the unmarried boys. Depending on the regional custom, they roamed the area with burning torches and stick lanterns or with so-called “Rüblichtern” and glow heads.

Sometimes the fires were then also lit on the fields themselves or on prominent elevations in the area. In this context, the vernacular knew how to report that the meadows and fields became fertile as far as the glow of the fire could be seen.

There is evidence that children also set out on such parades as early as the 16th century, but at that time it was said to have been mostly older schoolchildren who walked through the streets with Martin’s torches and sang Martin’s songs.

The singers were rewarded for their “pious efforts” with fruit, nuts and baked goods, often loudly demanding these gifts with appropriate verses of begging and begging.

Anyone who turned out to be stingy ran the risk of being “sung out” in the whole village with bitter satirical verses as misers. There, where the winter slaughtering season had begun at the time of the processions of candles, begging or “heaving” was particularly worthwhile.

Over time, the autumn parades shifted to November 11, the memorial day of Saint Martin. A St. Martin’s ride in the actual sense, in which St. Martin rides through the streets followed by a group of children carrying lanterns and singing, is said to have first existed in Düsseldorf in 1886.

In his role as a child-friendly gift bringer, Saint Martin was replaced by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. The lanterns remained. And the songs: “Martin is a pious man. Light his candles.” – “I’ll go with my lantern and my lantern with me.”