For the past 20 years in Spokane, the first Friday in November has been marked by a parade of lights.
Since 1996, German language students at SpoLang Foreign Language Academy (Spanish is also taught at the school) have held the Lantern Fest Parade, which takes place this year on Friday at Manito Park.
In Germany, the Lantern Fest Parade occurs on the eve of Martinstag, or St. Martin’s Day.
Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army for two years before becoming a conscientious objector. According to the most well-known legend associated with Martin, he once cut his cloak in two to share with a poorly dressed beggar.
Martin’s willingness to share is one reason Frau Christine Barnes, director of SpoLang, holds the Lantern Fest Parade each year.
“Mostly here I do it for the children to sing and do the crafts and the whole holiday is about remembering how to share,” she said.
During the parade, students age 3 and older sing both songs traditionally sung in Germany, like “Laterne, Laterne,” and “Ich geh mit meiner Laterne (I go with my lantern),” and those Barnes has written, all while carrying the lanterns they decorated in class.
Each lantern is lit by a tea candle, a highlight for many of the children.
“Their eyes just brighten up so much when they see their little creations light up,” Barnes said.
In Germany, the lantern parade is typically led by a man, dressed as St. Martin as a soldier, riding a horse and ends at Martinsfeuer, or St. Martin’s Bonfire. But both require special permission, so Barnes forgoes those elements.
In keeping with tradition, children will enjoy Weckmann, a sweet bread shaped like a person with raisins, nuts or dried cranberries used for eyes and buttons, at the end of the parade.
In previous years, the Lantern Fest Parade was held in Riverfront Park, but construction has forced the parade to relocate to Manito Park.
Barnes doesn’t think the new location will hurt attendance.
“I’m pretty confident that we will have a lot of children,” she said. “People come from Coeur d’Alene, people come from all kinds of corners of this region to come and join us.”
Likewise, many parents of SpoLang students help with the Lantern Fest Parade because it recalls traditions they’ve heard about from family members in Germany, and they are interested in bringing that heritage to their own family.
“It is a little piece of Germany that I can relate to the children that they know this is also being done in Germany…,” Barnes said. “(Parents are) bringing heritage and bringing tradition back to their children with coming here and learning German and handcrafting and doing the Lantern Parade.”
The Lantern Fest Parade is one of two presentations SpoLang students give every year, the other being a presentation for their parents at the end of the school year.
Barnes credits supportive parents and hardworking, enthusiastic students for SpoLang’s success. She gets a little emotional speaking about her students and said they have become like her children over the years.
She has students she has worked with since they were 5 now attending middle school in Germany, and many of her high school students have won foreign language awards and scholarships.
She is also helping students with their German certification so they can attend college in Germany.
“They’re just amazing and seeing them growing every year, knowing more, that’s all I need to see,” Barnes said. “Them succeeding, going on great adventures in their life.”
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