Last Wednesday on the 11th of November, I visited the St. Martin’s Day celebrations with Wei. St. Martin’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Martin, Martinstag (i.e. Martin’s Day) or Martinmas, the Feast of St Martin of Tours or Martin le Miséricordieux, is celebrated on the eleventh of the eleventh month each year.
Martinstag is one of the many Namenstag (Name’s Day) we celebrate every year. In layman terms, a Namenstag is a ‘birthday’ for anyone with that very name. Namenstag is almost as big a celebration as someone’s birthday, actually… it could be regarded as bigger than a birthday – usually in Catholic areas of Germany. For instance, anyone called Martin would have probably been gifted something on Martinstag.
This is a great explanation I found online of Namenstag:
The “Namentag” is a day set for the remembrance of a person, usually a saint, apostle or martyr.
It started during the Roman Empire when Christians were trying to convert non-Christians outside the empire. When individuals were converted and baptized, they usually received a so-called Christian name to differentiate him or her from non-Christians. The Christian name marked an important link between the newly converted and the apostle or martyr the name originaled from.
Also, during the 15th century, newborns were named on the day of their baptism. They usually received the name of the saint or apostile whose name was remembered that day. So, the baptism was also the “Namenstag” – the day a person received his or her name. Well-known example: Martin Luther: Nov 11, 1483.
The celebrations began with a “Martinsspiel”, which is a play that features the major events from Saint Martin’s life. This happened at Marienplatz around 5pm, but I missed it because I was getting my hair cut! However, Wei and I managed to catch the “Laternenumzug”, which translates to the “Move with Lanterns”. It was so lovely seeing young children carrying their lanterns and getting all excited about their little creations (yes, they made them during curriculum time in their Kindergarten). The Laternenumzug went through Munich’s Inner-city and ended at the St. Michael Church, where we were welcomed by a knight (he was wearing glitzy disco-ball-like pants – it was hilarious) on a horse – which I featured at the start of this post.
Catholics/ Non-Catholics alike were allowed entrance into this public event so that everyone could celebrate Saint Martin’s legacy together. The ceremony started off with the Priest sharing a few traditional St. Martin stories with the whole lot of us and led the singing of some songs to commemorate Martinstag before… everything went dark.
The priest requested for the lights to be turned off and for everyone seated to stand up and hold their lanterns high high up officially mark the beginning of ‘Martinmas’. The whole lot of candles were like the tiny stars lighting up the night sky – how a single star could do no more than light up the portion of the galaxy within a few centimetres’ radius, but millions of stars together could light up a whole night sky. A lantern on its own couldn’t achieve much with brightening up the area but the entire army of lanterns worked beautifully at lighting up the entirety of the church. It resonated so wonderfully with the idea that a single twig breaks, but a bundle of twigs is strong.
As Wei and I walked around the beautiful church, I chanced upon something I could not take my eyes off. It left me with tears rolling down my cheeks.
This message was peppered with asterisks to represent sparkles, hearts, a Sun, the cross and some powerful words: “Vertrauen” (“Trust”), “Liebe” (“Love”), “Angst” (“Anxiety/ Fear”), “Freude” (“Joy”) and “Trauer” (“Sorrow/ Grief”).
It reads: “Lieber Opi, ich vermisse dich! Ich weiß, dass du immer bei mir bist. ♥♥♥ Bis bald. Ich liebe dich. Irgendwann werden wir uns wieder sehen! Pass gut auf unsere Familie auf.” // “Dearest Grandpa, I miss You! I know that You’re always with me. Till soon (i.e. Till we meet soon again.) I love You. We’ll meet again some time in the future. Take good care of our family.”
“I wish we could have met/ gotten to know each other.”
“It is so sad that You’ve passed away.”
“I miss how we used to…”
“I miss how You used to make me feel.”
“I hope You’re in a good place by God’s side now.”
These messages went on for rows on end and to think that they were all written by young children who were grieving for the passing on of a loved one, I can’t help but think about the clarity that death brings to a person – young or old. There is a maturity in which they think, comprehend and perceive death as being a permanent finality to human life. No do-overs, no reliving of anything. Period.
I wonder… if we were all to live with the idea that life could be taken away from us at any moment and be able to fully comprehend its finality every second of our lives, would we change our course of action? Would we opt to head in a different direction because we know that there isn’t any substance in what we’re doing right now?
I wonder if we’d start consciously taking time off our daily schedules to say a few nice words to someone we love to let them know what they mean to us, so that we won’t live with the regret one day knowing that we will never get the chance to tell our loved ones what we had on our minds all along, just because they have already passed on…