"The sunlight fast is dwindling.
My little lamp needs kindling.
Its beam shines far in darkest night
Dear Lantern guard me with your light."
-Festivals, Family and Food by Diana Carey and Judy Large
Winter is here! Commence sledding, drinking of hot chocolate and cider. Hang evergreen along your entry way, light your candles, gather with family, and enjoy the indoor festivities!
November 11th is Martinmas, also known as Martinstag and the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours.
Saint Martin was a Roman solider from France born in 316. As an adult he converted to Christianity and became a monk. He was known for being a kind man who lived a quiet and simple life.
Saint Martin, like all Saints, has a wonderful story to tell. Before he was baptized, while he was studying Christianity, he was on his way home when he passed by a beggar on the side of the road.
It was a very cold night and the beggar had hardly any clothes on. Saint Martin took his battle sword and cut his own cloak in half. He then gave half of it to the beggar.
Later that evening Saint Martin had a dream or vision that Christ appeared to him wearing the half cloak proclaiming to the Angels,
"Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me."
I cannot begin to describe how much I love this story and how thankful I am to the work of Rudolph Steiner and the Waldorf method for introducing it to me.
Saint Martin begins his adult life as a solider for Rome. I cannot imagine the torture, the bloodshed and the horrors he must have witnessed in such a world. Instead of crawling into a cave and wishing the evil world away (which is what I am tempted to do in hard times), Martin strove for more and in this striving found Christ.
Once Martin had found Christ he had access to that wonderful Christ light. Even though he had not yet completed his studies to become baptized he was able to stop in the dead cold of a winter's night and share half of his cloak with a total stranger in need.
Martin wasn't caught up in himself and what his hardships or history were. He let grace fill in his gaps, he trusted completely and without hesitation served the Lord through giving to the most poor.
That thought can pull me through just about anything, and in the dark of winter either literal or metaphorical - you need that light to guide you.
In Ireland the tradition of Martinmas is to kill a cockerel, bleed it, and sprinkle the blood in the four corners of one's home. They also did not use a wheel of any kind since legend has it, Saint Martin was killed with a wheel.
In Northern Europe children make paper lanterns and go from door to door singing Saint Martin's Day songs for sweets. The Nordic tradition has been carried on in Waldorf schools and among Waldorf families. A lantern walk on the evening of Martinmas is traditional.
Singing for sweets may remind you of Halloween and the dates between the two traditions are not far off for good reason. The Old Scottish or Pictish form of Halloween is called Samhuinn (pronounced Sow-un) and it falls on November 11th.
In the Old World this was the start of the new year and a return to wintertime. Fire was key to Samhuinn rituals celebrating all night by a large bonfire was common. Like the more modern lanterns of Martinmas this symbolism of fire as we descend into winter was meant to bring us comfort as the days became very cold and the nights very long and dark.
A popular chant heard on this night would be..
A null e; A nall e; Slainte!
Welcome to the new year!
May it teach me as well as did the old.
A null e; A null e; Slainte!
Sitting by the fireside and meditating or sleeping all night was a popular way to spend this New Years night. The Pects also marched through their community singing songs and carrying sparks to light the new years fire.
Precautions were taken at this time against bad luck to human and livestock. Juniper was burned, mountain ash decorated the house and doorposts, walls, and cattle were sprinkled with wine.
No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere your days have become cool and the night has grown darker, earlier - pressing us to use our sparks (fires, lanterns, electric or solar lights) on our journey through the winter.
And in life we all experience dark times, we just need to remember to carry our light with us.
Come check me out over at a Wise and Glorious Purpose!