Martinmas Lantern Walk: A Waldorf-Inspired Tradition

A story of compassion

Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Festival of Martinmas is observed by many Waldorf schools on November 11 each year. Martinmas originated in France in honor of St. Martin, who as a young man passed under an archway of the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The man was barely clothed, and shivering with cold. On seeing him, the young Martin took his cape from his own shoulders, tore the garment in half, and covered the poor man to warm him. The following night Martin had a dream in which he saw an angel wearing this same piece of his cape. The experience confirmed in him his devotion to all mankind regardless of their station in life. Martin went on to become patron saint of beggars and outcasts, and was known for his gentleness, his unassuming nature and his ability to bring warmth and light to those in need. 

Each of us is one small light, but together we shine bright!

As we journey into the darkest time of the year, it is increasingly important for each of us to kindle warmth and light in our hearts. Martin’s cloak can remind us to share with those in need.

One of the most endearing traditions celebrating St. Martin is called Martinmas — children carry lanterns in the dark while singing to keep light and music in the world. During our annual Martinmas Lantern Walk, children and parents are invited to gather together as the sun sets and carry their handmade lanterns, symbolizing our own individual light. 

This is a quiet, meditative celebration. Following the lighting of the lanterns, the children will walk through the park or play yard with their class, singing lantern songs. Parents are asked to walk with their children and to help preserve the mood of the evening by joining in the singing and encouraging the children in reverence and calm. 

The gently glowing lanterns of Martinmas will give way to the candles of the advent spiral as we draw nearer to the Solstice, showing how our inner light must shine ever brighter against the cold. 

As nature sleeps, we must be wakeful!