A procession of brightly colored lanterns winds its way down the darkening lane, to the sound of children’s voices singing traditional songs… On Friday 11 November, House of Knowledge International School and Kindergarten (HoK) will bring all the magic of the Lantern Walk, a centuries-old European custom, to Beijing.
To find out more, we talked to Tara Gillan, Head of Marketing at HoK. She shared with us the story behind this atmospheric tradition.
“One dark, wintry night,” she told us, “a Roman soldier was riding his horse when he saw a beggar on the side of the road, shivering in the cold. The soldier, Martin, got off his horse, took out his sword and sliced his cloak in two, giving half to the freezing beggar.”
Martin converted to Christianity, and became Bishop of Tours, in France. Canonized after his death, he was one of medieval Europe’s most revered saints. The small churches where his famous cloak was displayed were named after the Latin for “little cloak,” capella – the origin of the word “chapel.”
His holy day, falling on 11 November and known as Martinmas, marked the transition from fall to winter, and was associated with the butchering of animals and the first of the year’s wine being ready for drinking, so it was an excuse for a feast before the Advent fast.
“The tradition of St Martin’s Day,” Gillan said, “is to participate in a lantern walk with paper lanterns and singing, to celebrate modesty and altruism. This is the ninth year we have done the lantern walk in Beijing, and we do it every year as it is part of House of Knowledge’s traditions linked to our German roots.”
But as well as the fun, Gillan told us, there’s a serious purpose to the event.
“We want to teach our students about goodwill and helping those in need. Every year we have a charity or someone our children help to raise money for, while at the same time educating the kids why we should help others as part of our moral duty in life.
“This year we are helping to raise money via Roundabout for a boy called Wu Ya Chao. He is a nine-year-old boy from Henan Province and he has Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. This young boy is currently in Beijing Children’s Hospital and needs 11 chemotherapy treatments to help him recover. This treatment costs RMB 10,000 which his family does not have, so every penny you raise counts!”
We asked her what people can expect if they come along.
“You will be given a free book full of traditional songs we will sing on the lantern walk. The walk is suitable for all ages. This year it will only be a short walk, so our friends with little legs can do it too!
“After, there will be traditional food and drink like goulash, hot chocolate for the kids and the famous traditional mulled wine for the adults, made by our German HoK founder Farshad Danicek. There will also be games for children, who can win a traditional gingerbread man! All profits will go towards helping Wu Ya Chao.”
Do people need to bring their own lanterns, we wondered?
“Of course its fun to make and bring your own lantern, but it is not essential,” Gillan said. “Just bring your smile and your singing voice, and wrap up warm!”
HoK are providing transport from their Chaoyang West Gate Campus to Shunyi. A return ticket costs RMB 30 per person. Tickets must be booked in advance, please contact the Campus manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: courtesy of HoK