President Dieter F. Uchtdorf helped lead the observance of the German tradition of St. Martin’s Lantern Parade on Dec. 5 at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City, marking the opening of the three-night Christkindlmarkt, featuring an array of temporary shops offering German food and wares at the park entrance.
It was the second Christmas season that the park has staged the parade, which stems from the 4th century A.D.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, was the featured speaker for the lantern parade.
“ ‘Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne.’ This refrain echoes through the streets of Germany every year on Nov. 11,” said President Uchtdorf, whose family emigrated as refugees from Czechoslovakia to East Germany when he was 4 years old.
“Happy children with colorful handmade lanterns promenade through the streets cheerfully singing the songs of the season. Brimming with excitement, the children hope to catch a glimpse of St. Martin, the man dressed in Roman soldier’s uniform, and his proud horse as they lead the procession of children.”
True to tradition, the Heritage Park celebration featured a man on horseback dressed as St. Martin, leading a procession of lantern-bearing children from area elementary schools and a community choir.
Speaking to a crowd huddled together in 13-degree weather, President Uchtdorf told the story of St. Martin, the son of a Roman tribune who himself became a Roman soldier.
“Legend tells that on one winter day, St. Martin rode on his horse through snow and wind but he was light at heart because his fine military cloak kept him warm,” he said.
A beggar clad only in rags implored Martin for help. Having just given away his last coins, the soldier drew his sword and cut his cloak in two, giving one of the halves to the old man. Before the man could thank him, Martin rode away into the night.
That night, Martin dreamed that Jesus Christ appeared to him and thanked him, saying, “What you did today you did to me,” President Uchtdorf related.
He then introduced the singing of the traditional song, “St. Martin, St. Martin,” by the school children.
Prior to the lighting of a Christmas tree on the plaza, President Uchtdorf congratulated and thanked elementary, high school and university students who, in connection with the celebration, collected coats and socks to help those in need.
“I would love to list all the good things you have done in the spirit of St. Martin, but in this cold, you might just freeze to death before I am finished,” he joked. “However, I promise you the Lord will bless you for all your good deeds.”
He said that in Germany, this time of year is known as Advent Season.
“It is a time of expecting and preparing for the birthday of the Christ child,” he said. “But advent also means to look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Christmas connects the past with the present, and the present with the future, through the blessed spirit of Christ.
“The message of Christ in Christmas is always a message of light and love. And it is our task to reflect this light of Christ by our kind and loving acts toward our fellowmen. We can bring the spirit of Christ into our lives by being a little more compassionate and kind, and not only during the Christmas season.”
Counting with President Uchtdorf in German — “Eins, zwei, drei” — the students, or “Lantern Kinder,” signaled the lighting of the tree and then sang the German Yuletide song “O Tannenbaum.”