SALT LAKE CITY — A German yuletide tradition was introduced to Salt Lake City on Thursday evening with the St. Martin's Lantern Parade at This Is the Place Heritage Park, an event organizers expect to be an annual tradition.
Choirs from seven elementary and junior high schools in the Granite and Salt Lake City school districts carried paper lanterns from the park's Eagle Gate replica to the plaza at the park entrance and performed German Christmas carols.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese, narrated the program. He related the story of St. Martin, who was a soldier in the Roman Empire. He was riding his horse outside the city wall on a cold winter night, when a beggar asked him for alms.
With his sword, Martin cut his woolen cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. For kindness and compassion, Martin became well-known.
The incident was portrayed during the program with two costumed enactors, one on horseback representing Martin and the other depicting the beggar.
"The good deeds of this kindly saint bring light to our world, warming us and showing us the way," Bishop Wester said in his narration.
Later, Martin was chosen to be bishop of Tours. Legend has it that he felt he did not deserve the honor, so he hid in a goose house all day.
Adults and children searched the town to find him, lighting lanterns when it grew dark. He was found when the geese in the goose house began to squawk.
Today, German children celebrate St. Martin's Day by making lanterns and parading through town in honor of St. Martin's service.
"The children sing songs about him and later settle down to a goose dinner, which seems to me lacking in gratitude for the favor performed by the geese so many years ago," Bishop Wester said. "Tonight, our little celebration and re-enactment calls our attention to the simple yet heroic acts of kindness we are asked to perform on our journey home."
At the end of the program, to the strains of "O Tannebaum," Bishop Wester flipped a switch illuminating a colorful and brightly lit Christmas tree in the plaza.
The park's first Christkindlmarkt, with an assortment of small shops and booths, was the setting for the lantern parade. It carries forward a German tradition stemming from the Middle Ages in which German farmers sell toys, ornaments and crafts in the town center during the weeks leading to Christmas.