“The heavens are ripe with snow,“ our babysitter said this morning, stamping her feet and warming her hands above the heater. Every day this week she has predicted snowfall, ever since November 11th, the name day of Martin, who by Czech tradition reigns in the winter on his white horse of snow. Since our balcony thermometer said 5C again this morning, I waved aside her predictions, but helped bundle up Caroline tight before they ventured out for the day.
The Czechs are a secular sort of people, and they have given up most religious holidays. In place of saints days, they celebrate name days, raising a glass to all the Martins of the Czech Republic on this particular holiday. You wouldn’t know it, living in Prague, that St. Martin’s day, or Martinmas, has been Europe’s first day of winter since the middle ages and a major feast day too. St. Martin’s day was the time to try out the new wine, eat a fattened goose and slaughter your stock for winter. In some parts of Germany, children still celebrate - carrying lanterns in the shape of the moon, stars and sun from door to door, singing Martinslieder and reciting rhymes in exchange for small gifts of cookies or bread. The songs find us even in Prague, and Caroline and I sing one regularly each winter:
Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne.
Brenne auf, mein Licht, brenne auf, mein Licht,
aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht.
Lantern, lantern, sun, moon and stars.
blow out the lights, blow out the lights,
only leave my lantern so it can burn bright.
Tonight the temperatures have dropped and the clouds hang low in the sky. Will St. Martin ride by?
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