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Martinstag und der Weckmann

By October 31, 2010

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A Bread Man

"Martinstag" (St. Martin's Day) is coming on the 11th of November. It is not as big as Thanksgiving here but can involve a roast goose dinner, a parade with lighted paper lanterns and bread people called "Weckmänner" or "Martinsbrot," which was traditionally given to children who went door to door, singing in exchange for treats (like on Halloween) or after the parade. Nowadays, the treats are usually chocolate bars and the singing is hit and miss: some years you get a group or two at your door, other years - none.

The tradition (also "Martini," or "Martinstag") is a bit more popular in Catholic areas (the south, Swabia, Baden-Baden and Rhine, Switzerland and Austria), than the Protestant north, since the Reformation downplayed the role of saints in Christian worship.

"Martinsbrot" can be made out of sweet, yeast dough, such as in this recipe for Easter bunnies, and is also known as a "Stutenkerl" (yeast-guy) or "Weckmann" ("Wecken" means rolls) when made from regular roll dough (water, yeast, salt and flour). There are many other names for him, including "Backsmann", "Hefekerl", "Klaussenmann" and "Nikolaus" (see here for a longer list, in German). "Nikolaus" is baked for "Nikolaustag" on the 6th of December.

"Weckmänner" are sometimes baked with a clay pipe in their mouths, a change introduced after the Reformation to make the figure less "saintly." They are decorated with raisins and sometimes nuts, and are part of a tradition of picture breads that were given to the sick and penitent instead of communion.

Photo © 2007 Flammingo GNU Free Documentation License

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