The sunlight fast is dwindling,
My little lamp needs kindling,
Its beam shines far in the darkest night,
Dear lantern, guard me with your light.
~ M. Meyerkort
St. Martin is a patron saint of the poor and outcast. As legend tells, the soldier Martin discovered a poor beggar one night, shivering, and cold. Martin gave the man half his cape for warmth. The next night, he dreamt that he saw Christ wearing the same piece of his cape. After that, he spent the rest of his life serving those in need, bringing light and warmth to those in darkness. November 11th is his feast day, originally celebrated in many French households with a festival of lanterns. Now it’s often celebrated in Waldorf schools with a lantern walk.
Held during the darkest part of the year in the northern hemisphere, the lanterns also symbolize the return of the sun, with its warmth and light. We have celebrated this day in my home for several years with lantern making and a special cake. As my children have grown, we’ve gradually shifted the emphasis more to giving. I’ve let my son pick out his favorite foods at the grocery store to put in a food bank, we’ve written letters to a child we sponsor in Africa, and we’ve baked an extra cake to take to someone who was shut in. An idea for this year is to donate some extra coats to a shelter.
When my children were younger, they enjoyed walking around the neighborhood after dinner with their lanterns, returning to the house for hot chocolate and cake. Now, they still enjoy making lanterns, but we use them as a centerpiece for a candlelight dinner and enjoy a special cake for dessert.
Here’s how we make our favorite balloon lanterns:
Large paintbrushes or rollers
Note: Give yourself plenty of time to let the lantern dry. This is best started a couple of days before it needs to be used.
Mix one part glue to one part water. Set inflated balloon in a bowl to hold it steady. Brush glue mixture over an area of balloon so that torn pieces of tissue paper will stick. It’s best to start with darker colors when layering, adding the lighter colors later. Cover the entire balloon with a thin layer of tissue, overlapping the edges and brushing glue over the top. After the first layer, you can add a leaf if you want. It will show through the layers, adding a seasonal touch. Let dry before adding another layer (I used a hairdryer to speed up the process). Repeat for three or four more layers.
After the tissue dries, pop the balloon! Don’t worry if doing this causes the lantern to collapse a little. You can push it back into shape.
Punch two holes, one on each side, and tie string on for a handle. You can also use scissors to even out the rim along the top of the lantern.
You can pour a little hot wax where you want to place the votive inside the lantern and keep it in place, or use a safety candle.
Our Favorite Martinmas Spice Cake
30 minutes prep time, serves 12
Canola oil spray
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ c. granulated sugar
½ c. light brown sugar
1 ½ c. applesauce
2/3 c. canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. raisins (optional)
2/3 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 and generously spray then lightly flour a 10 inch Bundt pan.
Sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugars, applesauce, oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients until well blended. Fold in the raisins and nuts, if you are using them.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and continue cooling on the rack. When cake is completely cooled, sift confectioner’s sugar over top and garnish with seasonal fruits if desired.
Dawn lives in Kirkland, Washington and blogs at her space Renaissance Mama.