Today is Martinmas, the feast day of Saint Martin, who lived in the fourth century. Although I was raised a Catholic, I didn’t really learn about Martin until my older son was in second grade at his Waldorf school. Now, my younger son is a second grader, and tonight we get to go to school to have a lantern walk and meet the saint.
I feel like I have written about this event from 2008 before, but if I did I can’t find it. When Lucas was in second grade, we walked with our lanterns through the dark school grounds and through the woods at night and came upon a silent reenactment of the story of Martin and the beggar. A man sat on a horse and a beggar man was crouched nearby, in the shadows. At first we didn’t even see him. The children sang lantern songs and watched with wonder as the splendidly dressed Martin give half of his soldier’s cloak to the beggar, who warmed himself with the garment. It was a beautiful, reverent moment—a saint story brought to life before our eyes.
Above is a transparency I made to include in our new Martinmas & Thanksgiving Festival E-Book. A tutorial can be found in our book. It was lots of fun to make and I think I’d like to do more of these, especially one of Martin giving his cloak to the beggar.
Asher has been hearing about Saint Martin a lot at school. It never ceases to amaze me how much detail young children can remember of the complex stories they hear at school. Asher got really excited to be able to teach us all so much about Martin and his generosity. As I had been writing about Martin and Martinmas, I shared some of what I learned in my research at dinnertime, and Asher just launched in with, “Oh! I know that one!” and finished the story for me. He told us four stories about Martin that his teacher had shared.
Here is one of Asher’s school drawings, showing Martin facing an enemy army with his cross only, no weapons. Martin was an early conscientious objector. His faith in Christ made him unwilling to fight, and after a short term of service in the Roman military, he was released from duty (he later became the bishop of Tours). So in addition to his generosity toward those suffering from cold and poverty, Martin was a man of peace. It’s quite fitting, I think, that his feast day is also Veterans’ Day in the US, and Armistice Day in Europe, the day that marks the end of WWI.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
—Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., Canadian Army (1872–1918)
1896 Painting by Pál Szinyei Merse, (1845–1920)
Poppies. Scarlet poppies. In the UK there is a huge art installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the sacrifice of the fallen, which can be seen in photos here. It is called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”; it is breathtaking and utterly vast, and I wish I could see it in person.
I can’t help but feel satisfied at the blending of all these overlapping festivals. Martin. Peace. Remembrance of the men and women who fell, fighting for their loved ones and countries. The Veterans’ Day holiday here, when people openly acknowledge the service and sacrifices made by our service men and women and thank them. Thanksgiving. There is a beautiful grace that evokes the poppies of Flanders fields and the human toil that we must do to benefit from earth’s abundance.
The silver rain, the golden sun,
The fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat
are in the food that we do eat.
So when we sit for every meal,
and say our grace, we always feel
that we are eating rain and sun
and fields where scarlet poppies run.
So, I’m thinking about all these things and feeling excited about tonight. I have some lantern-making supplies here for the boys to use after school. Asher will use the lantern he made at school tonight for the lantern walk, but Lucas might want to make one to use tonight. Or he might not. He might prefer just to tag along, and stay emotionally out of it.
I’m going to gather up some clothing and coats we don’t use and take them to the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services this month. If anyone local would like to donate items also, I’ll be happy to deliver them to the organization. Let me know.
And with that, I will wish you all a season brimming with peace and gratitude.