St. Martin’s day traditions in Bavaria - Germany

St. Martin’s day on 11th November is the day we remember Martin of Tours. In Bavaria children and families the state over eagerly await the coming of evening for it is then that, dressed in their warmest clothes and with glowing St. Martin’s lanterns held high, they process through their towns and villages singing traditional St. Martin’s songs before returning home to a sumptuous dinner of St. Martin’s goose.

St. Martin’s goose

The St. Martin’s goose dinner is probably the most widely spread tradition associated with the 11th November. It is thought that this tradition has its roots in the life of St. Martin himself. Legend has it that against his own better judgement and despite the clergy’s reservations the people of Tours clamoured for Martin to be ordained as a bishop. Martin, a humble man and an ascetic, considered himself unworthy of this weight of responsibility and hid in a goose shed. The geese, however, made such a noise that Martin was soon discovered and his ordination took place as planned. This is just one of a number of tales that are enjoyed by young and old on St. Martin’s day before everyone sits down to a wonderful roast dinner that tradition consists of roast goose with red cabbage and potato dumplings.

St. Martin’s procession and glowing St. Martin’s lanterns

St. Martin’s day in Bavaria as in many other regions of Germany is marked by a lantern lit processions. For several days before children across the state are busy cutting, sticking and colouring a paper lantern that is then hung on the end of a stick and equipped with a small candle. Then, accompanied by mums, dads, grandmas and grandpas, and singing traditional St. Martin’s day songs the children are led through their town or village by a grey horse and rider who is clad in a red cloak to represent St. Martin himself. Having processed through the streets the children then usually re-enact a story of St. Martin sharing his cloak and his food with a beggar before a St. Martin’s day bonfire is lit and the children are given a Weckmännl (yummy bread man made of a yeast). These yummy yeast breads dough with raisins that, in true St. Martin’s style, they are encouraged to share with the other children.

Martin’s songs

After the procession has finished the children go from door to door with their lanterns singing St. Martin’s day songs for which they are usually richly rewarded with sweets, biscuits, fruit and other treats.

"Pelzmärtel" / "Nussmärtel" ...

... are just some of the alternative names used for St. Martin in other, mainly protestant, areas of Bavaria and southern Germany. In Donau-Ries and Mid Franconia, "Pelzmärtel" or "Nussmärtel" brings presents on St. Martin’s day. In Franconia (south Germany) St. Martin often replaces St. Nicholas bringing on St. Martin’s day a sack full of goodies for the children who have been good during the year and the threat of a stick for those that haven’t.

Traditional St. Martin’s day goose

Serves 6

1 oven-ready goose, (approx. 5 kg) 250 g prunes, (soaked overnight) 500 g apples 2 dstspns sugar, 5 dstspns wholemeal breadcrumbs, 2 cl brandy, cinnamon, 4 dstspns cream, 1 dstspn flour, 3 dstspns apple purée, salt, pepper.


Preparation: 1h

Carefully wash and dry the goose and salt on the inside only. Stone the soaked prunes and mix with the chopped apples. Add sugar, breadcrumbs, cinnamon and brandy to taste. Stuff this mixture into the goose cavity and sew closed.
Place the goose on a trivet and add 3 cups of water and a quartered apple to the pan. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C and roast the goose slowly for a maximum of 3 hours on the bottom shelf basting occasionally with the juices as required. After an hour and a half prick the goose skin underneath the goose to allow the fat to run out. 10 minutes before the end of roasting brush the goose with cold salt water and turn the heat up to 250°C to crisp the skin.
Mix the roasting juices with a little water, cream and flour and add apple purée, salt and pepper to taste. Boil for 10 minutes. Serve with potato or bread dumplings and red cabbage.

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St. Martin tradition: children re-enact the story of St. Martin sharing his cloak image.enlarge
St. Martin tradition: children re-enact the story of St. Martin sharing his cloak © Eder

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