Sunday, November 9, 2008


The Girl is going to a Waldorf School, and part of what makes Waldorf school special is that they observe seasonal changes with a variety of festivals. Now that we actually live somewhere with real seasons, we were glad to observe and mark the change. Our days are now notably colder and shorter. We went to the school on a Friday evening for a Martinmas lantern walk.

Martinmas is November 11th. It is observed in France, Germany, and Estonia. It is as a day to recognize the triumph of darkness over light in the human spirit. It is associated with the story of St. Martin, who is said to have encountered a homeless beggar who had no clothing to shield him from the weather one very cold November night. Martin gave him his own cloak, and later had a dream or vision that he had given his cloak to Jesus. It is a story to remind us to recognize the divine light in each person, everywhere, all the time.

Martinmas is celebrated by children who make lanterns and walk through the village singing traditional lantern songs. In Estonia, this is a door-to-door activity much like trick or treating. I suspect, due to the nature of the celebration, that calling it St. Martin's day's is another instance of the church trying to reassign a christian meaning to a pagan holiday observed in areas they were trying to Christianize, as a way of allowing the locals to keep their traditions but to do so in the church's name. Lanterns, or their modern counterparts in flash lights and reflective clothing, become a necessary part of life at this season. The observance of festival that involves illuminating the night with lanterns seems like an ancient and seasonal concept. Martinmas is considered the end of the time that begins when Halloween/ Samhain/Day of the Dead/ commences, which is when 'the veils between the world are thinnest'. So it is like a closing of the psychic doors with little lights. Samhain was a lunar holiday, and I suspect Martinmas was probably traditionally the first full moon after Samhain.

At our observance at school, we listened by candle light to a story (in Swedish) about a little girl who takes a journey to the sun to reignite her lantern which has burned out. Along the way she is sheltered and helped by many animal friends who encourage her that she will find her way to the light. She wakes after a long sleep to find the sun has come and lit her lantern, and she in turn is able to share the light with her animal friends on her return journey, when she finds their own fires have ceased burning. We went outside and the lantern walk began, the children sang lantern songs, and we all gathered in a circle. We finished with some socializing with warm glögg and pepparkakor.

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