Last night, we attended our third lantern fest at the kids’ school. It is my favorite Austrian tradition, and it was extra special because this time, both boys participated.
It’s a wonderful evening. All of the preschool kids at the school (about 60 of them), each holding a homemade lantern constructed of cardboard and waxed paper and containing an actual, lit candle, parade around the garden with their lanterns, singing, while the parents all take tons of pictures. After a brief performance by the bigger children, explaining the celebration of St. Martin (Benjamin was a tree!), the parents take their children by the hand and we all go for a walk around the block in the dark, singing. After our parade around the neighborhood, we all return to the school for Kipferl (like a croissant, but not flaky), warm drinks and a little socializing. It’s fun, festive, and very sweet (if always a little cold to be outside for an hour).
I love this tradition, and so do the kids. For us, as Americans, it’s also a little astonishing — with the candles and paper lanterns, I’m certain something like this would never happen in the States. (Some other parents we mentioned this to last night literally did not believe us. They thought we were exaggerating when we explained that it’s darn near impossible that a school in the US would allow 60 3-6 year olds to walk around in the dark carrying paper lanterns containing actual candles. Their response was, “No way! They’re just candles!”)
(Also, on further reflection, I’m pretty certain that this tradition is part of why Halloween hasn’t much caught on here. The tradition of celebrating the Feast of St. Martin contains many of the same elements — lanterns, walking around the neighborhood in the dark — but without costumes or candy.)
The boys both did great. They looked for Dan and I right away and were so happy to have us there. Liam was composed and happy throughout, and B performed excellently as a tree during the short play relating the story of St. Martin. I walked around the block with Liam, while Dan walked with B and his class. All of the kids did great with their candle-filled lanterns. (Although injury seems inevitable to my mind, this is our third year, and no one has ever gotten hurt by the lanterns, nor set their lantern on fire, nor poked anyone with the sticks they’re carried by. Go figure.)
I am so glad that my boys, and indeed our whole family, has gotten to participate in the tradition here. I love it. And now, officially, it’s time to start celebrating Christmas in Vienna.