How to connect the Danish Mortensdag and the German Saint Martin's Day in a danish forest
Being in the forest for 10 months under every kind of weather circumstances during all four seasons? Working with 2-3-year-olds while learning to communicate with them in Danish, a totally foreign language?
Can you imagine that for yourself?
Why am I asking this?
Because that's my current life I want to tell you about.
All of that was something I didn't even imagine doing exactly a year ago, as I stood on stage and our school principal handed me my A-levels diploma after 13 years of school.
But now, this is all daily life for me. My name is Sophia, I am 20 years old and originally from Germany. I am currently working as a volunteer in a forest kindergarten in Jylland in Denmark. It was in April 2018, when I applied for the European Solidarity Corps and only a few months later, I sat in the train heading north to an unknown country where I would be staying for the next 10 months, not knowing what to expect or how the time abroad would turn out.
After three months of being in Denmark, the other two volunteers in my project and I came up with the idea to organize an event in the kindergarten together. It was the time in the 'Golden Autumn', when the leaves are just turning red and yellow and everything becomes really colourful. In Germany we usually start to prepare for Saint Martin's Day around that time, between the middle and the end of October. So we decided to bring our German tradition of going onto a Saint Martin's procession to our Danish kindergarten children, their parents and of course also to all the stuff. The holy day on the 11th of November is not celebrated in every part of Germany and is often more a religious day but in my childhood we have always been part of the Saint Martin procession in our village. We would go out and meet up with all the people on the main street. Every child would have its own special lantern in his hand and so it would start - we would walk along dark streets and through a little forest following a horse. On it would sit a man with a soldier helmet wearing a big red coat - he was supposed to play the Saint Martin. While walking we would usually sing Saint Martin Songs accompanied by an orchestra and in the end everybody would meet around a big bonfire to eat sweet bread and to drink hot punch.
In Denmark exists the same holy day but it is called 'Mortensdag' - Morten is in that case Martin as in the Saint Martin we know from various legends. However, the Danes do not usually do processions on that day, maybe in a few little villages organized by the church (but it is not very common). That is why it is rather a holiday than a celebration day. Although there are some Danish traditions I got to know in my host family of which I think they are also nice to do together. In Germany we eat sometimes goose on the 11th of November as a special meal but not always. Here in Denmark they make a big family get-together where they invite friends and colleagues as well. Then they eat a big meal with several dishes, often duck or goose with red cabbage and potatoes. So it is always a cosy evening with delicious food and lots of laughter and talking in between.
Nevertheless, we proposed our idea and it got accepted with suspense, so soon we got started with all the preparations.
First, we collected different coloured leaves in the forest with some children in our separate kindergarten groups. Then we sorted the leaves we found and put them in heavy books to dry and to press them. After a few days we could use them to built lanters with the children. Therefore, we had bought some wire, papers etc., so that the handicraft work marathon could start. Every child in the kindergarten from the age of two till six years made a lantern. Some younger childrn needed more assistance then others, we helped them to paint on their transparent paper, to glue leaves on it and to put the whole lantern with a top and a bottom piece together.
As the date was set for the 9th of November, we had a few meetings with some of the pedagogues and our boss where we discussed and planned everything concerning the whole day, the exercises, the food, the helpers and the contacting and including of the parents.
Afterwards, we planned the program and hung a list out in the kindergarten where the parents should write their names down in case they would be able to bring a cake to the event. Because we wanted to make a German punch, which is a warm sweet berry and cinnamon drink, we sent a colleague out to buy enough juice packages. Additionally to a self-written speech about Saint Martin and our customs of celebrating the Holy Day in Germany, we printed pictures out to visualize the content for the children. To prepare them a bit for the upcoming event, we told them the story about Saint Martin a few times in a story-telling-sitting-circle in advance. Besides, we chose two Saint Martin Songs that we practiced with the kindergarten children befor the 9th of November and printed the song lyrics out for the parents.
Eventually the big day came! In the morning we had cleaned the kindergarten's playground, had decorated a few tables, set a big pot over a bonfire where the Martin punch was supervised by a colleague and had made the last minute planning and controlling of the things we were supposed to do before the parents arrived. At 3 o'clock the kindergarten was crowded by parents, grandparents and lots of children. Before the official program started, we handed all the lanterns out which were soon glowing in the afternoon darkness. It was so amazing to see the pride and excitement in the eyes of the children as they showed their lanterns to their beloved-ones! We welcomed everybody and practiced the Martin songs with everyone before we got ready to go on a procession, a short walk in the woods. Along the whole path the trees were illuminated by glowing lanterns that showed us the way. Next to a wooden Tippi we stopped and a pedagogue helped us to tell the story about Sankt Martin and how he helped a poor and homeless man in the winter through cutting of half of his own coat so that the man could hold warm and survive. In the legend he is celebrated and seen as a very selfless and heroic soldier. Pictures of the plot made the whole history more understandable for the small ones. After we had sang the German songs again, we went back to the kindergarten where we 'hygged' us - as the Danes would call it now! That means we sat together under a big tent around a bonfire with cake pieces, cookies and hot punch in our hands, while rain drops started falling down above us. It was the perfect ending of the Saint Martin's Day and another wonderful experience in the forest kindergarten that I never would want to miss out on! It is incredible to exchange experiences with the kids and to show and teach them new things, to see how they are growing and changing with every day! And of course also to learn things from them, about Denmark, about myself and about so much more - just a smile of one child makes a day or a situation so much better.
So guys, if you have the possibility to spend some months or a year abroad - maybe even through the European voluntary service which is in my opinion the perfect program to go with - do it! Take the step into a marvellous time that gives you lots of funny and unforgettable moments with people from all over the world!
In my case: Kaere hilsner fra Danmark!