Each November we have a Lantern Walk to celebrate Martinmas, a festival of inner light in the outer darkness of the approaching winter. Celebrating Martinmas at Vancouver Waldorf School serves as a reminder that each of us has a divine spark that we must ferry out into the world and share with others.
The children hear the story of St. Martin, sing songs and, as darkness falls, venture out into the night with their lanterns, walking along a path lit with glowing luminaries, carefully carrying their lanterns in a mood of quiet reverence. This symbolic act brings home the deeper truth, in the words of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism (563-483 B.C.):
“There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle.”
From France comes the legend of Saint Martin, who as a young man passed under an archway in the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The man was nearly naked, shivering with cold, and had received no alms to assist him. On seeing him, the young Martin took his own cape from his shoulders, tore the garment in half and covered the poor man to warm him. This experience confirmed in him his devotion to all humankind regardless of their station in life.
St. Martin was known for his gentleness, his unassuming nature and his ability to bring warmth and light to those who were previously in darkness. On the evening of Martinmas he is remembered in many European households with a festival of lanterns, carrying light throughout the darkened home and streets, and singing of songs.
The Martinmas celebration is inspired by old customs honoring St. Martin. As the sun sets earlier and rises later, the world grows darker and the inner light of humankind wants to shine forth. Children and parents gather as the sun sets. Handmade lanterns, often decorated with stars, suns and moons, are lit as a symbol for the children of their own individual light. And our walk into the evening gives the younger children and their families an experience of caring and sharing as we move toward the darkness of winter.
Image credit: Chalkboard Drawings
Read more about Martinmas.