Imagine small children bundled up in winter clothing carrying homemade lanterns and munching on pretzels. They sing in unison well-known songs like “Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne” and “Abends, wenn es dunkel wird” (see performances on Youtube) as they follow a man riding a horse through the snowy cobbled streets of Geneva’s old town. Eventually the man spies a beggar on the street in front of the church. He jumps off his horse, tears his jacket in two, and covers the needy man. The children watch the scene with eyes agape as the candles in their lanterns flicker in the wind.
Every year, the German community of Geneva get together to celebrate the feast of St Martin of tours, a Roman Saint. This Saturday (15 November 2014 at 17:00) several hundred people will gather together with a horse and brass band for a celebration co-sponsored by the German Catholic Community of St. Boniface, the German Reformed Congregation of Madeleine (Madeliene-Kirche) and the Lutheran Church of Geneva.
Children of German origin have been preparing for the festivities for weeks. “Martinstag is a very important religious holiday in Germany,” says Elinor Ziellenbach, who teaches second grade at the German School of Geneva (Deutsche Schule Genf). This year, her 30 students made lanterns and learnt traditional songs.
“We also study the history of Saint Martin in religion class to ensure that the children understand the principle theme—which is sharing and loving each other,” Ziellenbach says. As she is talking to me, a boy and a girl who overhear our conversation start to sing another classic song “Kommt wir wollen Laterne laufen” and it is hard to hear their teacher.
“Come, look at my lantern,” says one of Ziellenbach’s seven-year-old students tugging my sleeve as I try to talk to her teacher. She runs to the closet, takes out her lantern and shows us while beaming from ear to ear. “Saint Martin’s Day is really awesome!” she says.
Where to go
Geneva (15 November 2014)
17:00 meet in the Madeleine Church for singing
17:15 worship begins then each child receives a St. Martin’s Pretzel
17:45 procession starts with the horse and St. Martin at the helm
The route is as follows: rue de la Fontaine, Bourg de Four, rue de l’Hôtel, square in front of the cathedral, St. Martin shares his cloak, Bourg de Four and the Lutheran Church with finale in the garden.
Recipe for St. Martin’s pretzels (about 15-20 pieces)
- 150g quark
- 100ml milk
- 100ml sunflower oil
- 80g sugar
- 1 packet of vanilla sugar
- a pinch of salt
Mix with dough hook until smooth and then add:
- 300g wheat flour
- 1 packet of baking powder
Separate into portions, and knead briefly. Shape the dough into pretzel shapes, brush with egg yolk. Bake at 180 degrees for approximately 10-15 minutes.
The pretzels should be made on the same day, otherwise they do not taste fresh!!!
*Recipe thanks to the teachers at the Deutsche Schule Genf.
Edna Ayme is a writer and corporate communications specialist living in Geneva.