Attend a lantern walk celebration, or use this list of lantern walk traditions, rituals, and celebration ideas to organize a lantern walk festival. (First published October 28, 2020; this post is updated and republished to improve the content.)
A fall lantern walk is a traditional autumn celebration that happens when the days get shorter and the nights grow longer in the days leading up to the Winter Solstice. It is a celebration that inspires a connection to the rhythms of nature, community, and the light within. Join a lantern walk festival near you. Or use the traditional lantern crafts, songs, and celebration ideas below to organize a lantern walk festival in your community.
A Lantern Walk is a yearly rhythm or ritual to remind children that we are the light in the darkness. We each carry a unique portion of the spark of life. It’s an inner light that burns brightly within us. As we walk out into the night on a lantern walk, we light our luminaries and sing lantern songs to bring that light deep into our hearts and carry it with us through the dark days of winter. You might also enjoy creating a Stone Advent Spiral.
What is a Lantern Walk?
Fall lantern walks are a popular tradition in some regions of the world. A lantern walk is a festive and community-oriented event at dusk (or dawn) in the fall (autumn). It involves people gathering together to take a leisurely walk through a park, garden, or another outdoor setting while carrying lanterns or candles to light their way.
In the past, lanterns were carved out of freshly harvested gourds and illuminated with a candle similar to the Halloween jack-o-lantern. While today, most people make fall lanterns with paper or jars. These lanterns are often adorned with seasonal colors and motifs such as leaves, stars, or hearts. Scroll down to look at the list of lantern craft ideas below to learn how to make your own lantern.
An annual lantern walk may be organized as part of a larger event or festival and often includes activities like storytelling, music, or seasonal refreshments. For example, Steiner and Waldorf Schools, homeschoolers, and small nature communities worldwide hold lantern walks as an integral part of their Martinmas or autumn festival. Celebrate the light, connect with the rhythms of nature, and strengthen community bonds on a lantern walk this year.
What is the origin of the Lantern Walk?
The fall lantern walk tradition is associated with Saint Martin’s Day celebrations and Martinmas festivals with origins in Germany and other parts of Europe. In contemporary times, fall lantern walks are part of Martinmas festivals, modern community events, autumn festivals, Waldorf schools, and homeschool communities worldwide.
Over time, the lantern walk tradition has adapted to reflect the values and customs of the communities in which they are held. Although the customs and meanings associated with these lantern walks might differ slightly across cultures. The central idea of bringing light into the darkness and celebrating a sense of community remain common threads.
What is Saint Martin’s Day?
In some European countries, particularly Germany, Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of beggars and soldiers, is honored in an annual celebration. This celebration for St. Martin occurs on November 11th and is known as Martinmas or Saint Martin’s Day. On this day, St. Martin is celebrated for his acts of warmth and kindness and honored for his role as a patron saint of various causes.
Martinmas is particularly popular in European countries and is associated with various traditions and customs, including a lantern parade. On St. Martin’s Day, children participate in lantern processions, known as “Martinszüge” in German. They carry homemade lanterns through the streets and sing songs. This lantern walk is celebrated to symbolize the importance of community and sharing light and warmth during the winter.
Also known as the feast of St. Martin, Martinmas is one of the four quarter-day festivals celebrated in Scotland. Giant feasts with cooked geese and other seasonal foods and huge bonfires are enjoyed to honor Saint Martin on Martin-mas. Historically called Old Halloween (or Old Hallowmas Eve), it shares a few similarities to the Celtic festival of Samhain.
Like Samhain, Martinmas marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, shared the tradition of carving lanterns to walk with, and included celebratory bonfires and a huge feast. Many people also consider Martinmas a modern-day predecessor to traditional Thanksgiving celebrations because it is also a fall harvest feast that celebrates giving and gratitude.
Light the Way to Winter with a Fall Lantern Walk
Waldorf lantern walk celebrations occur at a Martinmas Festival on (or just before or after) November 11th, between Michaelmas and the Winter Solstice. These and other lantern walks are held in the fall as a part of annual festivals and community celebrations worldwide. Waldorf educators celebrate festivals to help connect children with the cycles of nature and establish rhythms that strengthen their bonds with the natural world.
The Lantern Walk is a fall tradition in Waldorf education that teaches children to celebrate the light within. It is also meant to inspire them to share the gifts of their “light” with humanity in meaningful ways.
Celebrating The Festival of Martinmas with Children
Martinmas occurs on November 11, after Michaelmas and before the Winter Solstice. Also known as St. Martin’s Day, the Feast of St. Martin, and Martinstag, the Festival of Martinmas is traditionally associated with the fall harvest. On Martinmas, people remember and honor St. Martin of Tours.
Martinmas is a celebration of hope and kindness and a reminder to bring warmth and light to those in need. As we journey deeper into the darkest time of the year, St. Martin’s Day and the story of St. Martin reminds us that we must kindle the warmth and light within our hearts and share it with the world.
The story of St. Martin is shared with children as a part of Waldorf Martinmas Festivities. Steiner educators are trained to use the art of storytelling and metaphor in their teachings, and the story of St. Martin’s cloak is no exception. It is told to children as a reminder to share with those in need, especially on the darkest days.
The Story of St. Martin
According to legend, St. Martin encountered a poor beggar huddled in an archway, freezing to death. He was shivering cold in the dead of night with barely a thread to clothe him. St. Martin removed his cloak from his own shoulders, drew his sword, cut the cape in two, and covered the poor man with half of it as a gesture of kindness.
Later that night, Martin had a dream in which a familiar man appeared wearing the piece of his cape that Martin had given to the poor beggar. Martin recognized the light of the Divine looking back at him, wearing the other half of his cloak. (In different versions of the story, St. Martin meets with an angel or finds his cloak miraculously restored to wholeness when he wakes the following day.)
This experience served as the inspiration that changed St. Martin forever. He promised to commit to a life of devotion and service to humanity from that moment forth, regardless of station. Another lovely version of the story of St. Martin is on pages 23-28 in a book titled “The Festival of Stones.”
Share Chapter 7, “A Festival of Lanterns,” and Chapter 8, “Saint Martin’s Light,” with children. Or share another meaningful story with kids as a part of your Martinmas celebration. If the story of St. Martin’s cloak isn’t for you, choose a story of compassion, warmth, or the miracle of kindness. Share it with your students, family, or community at your lantern walk celebration.
Waldorf Martinmas Lantern Walk Festival
Steiner Schools, Waldorf homeschools, and other nature-based communities across the globe hold a Martinmas Festival that includes a fall lantern walk. A lantern walk is a festival that teaches children that their inner light can continue to shine even as the light and warmth of the sun wane. But, in the winter, children learn that the light comes less from the sun and more from within our hearts, homes, and communities.
On a lantern walk, children are encouraged to hold a meditative reverence in their hearts as they venture out into the night with hand-held lanterns shining like little stars. They carry glowing handmade lanterns and sing songs in celebration of the divine light that connects each one of us.
The Martinmas celebration is shared with children to inspire them to ask deep, probing questions of themselves, as it also calls upon them to live a life of service to humanity and the greater good. Learn more about St. Martin’s Day and Martinmas festivals and celebrations in Steiner or Waldorf education HERE.
Go on a Fall Lantern Walk in 2023
Many families, schools, and communities honor this festival by organizing lantern walks in the fall. In recent years, lantern walks have become popular at autumn festivals, community events, and family-friendly activities worldwide. They are often organized so people can come together, enjoy the outdoors, and create a sense of togetherness and wonder.
Search for a lantern walk festival near you, or organize a lantern walk festival with the ideas included in this post. Plan to meet at a park or in nature, or go on a lantern walk with your family, friends, or community around the block or up and down the sidewalks of your neighborhood.
First, make a lantern for yourself and one for a friend or neighbor with the tutorials below. If you can not make a new lantern, use an old one or borrow one from a friend. Then, walk out into the darkness, singing songs and sharing your light. Go on a walk, even if only in the backyard, singing your favorite lantern songs. (Scroll down to see them, and get printable with lantern song lyrics–>HERE.)
Lantern Craft Ideas
Luminaries for a lantern walk are traditionally made by carving gourds and squash. Modern-day Martinmas lanterns are made with paper or jars and are often hung on a stick to make it easier for children to walk with them. Make autumn leaf crowns to adorn children’s heads as they head out into the night for even more fun!
Over the years, my daughter and I have made several lovely luminaries for lantern walks. Waldorf educators help children make gorgeous lanterns in various unique ways. They glow so beautifully on a cold autumn night. In the photograph below, you can see a few of my daughter’s handmade fall lantern walk luminaries.
How to Make Lanterns for a Lantern Walk Festival.
We learned how to make the lanterns pictured above through trial and error, some of my daughter’s Waldorf teachers, and the help of a few great books. First, Waldorf educators help children fold their watercolor paintings into lanterns. Next, they show them how to cut shapes and cover them inside with kite paper to make gorgeous lanterns for Martinmas. Choose a DIY lantern tutorial from the lantern craft ideas below to make your own lantern:
Related: Turkey Leaf Lanterns
Instructions to make several different paper lanterns at this time of year are in the recommended books below. Learn how to make Waldorf paper lantern crafts with the step-by-step instructions found within the pages of these beautiful books:
Mason Jar Lantern Ideas
Use these step-by-step lantern craft tutorials to make several types of beautiful glass mason jar luminaries to carry into the darkness on a lantern walk:
- Use real fall leaves, tissue paper, and a large clear mason jar to make leaf lanterns with this easy craft tutorial, complete with a step-by-step video tutorial.
- Or, cut autumn leaves, construction paper, or tissue paper into heart shapes to make the heart leaf lanterns shown in the photograph below.
- Next, put a mason jar handle on your homemade leaf luminary. Or fashion a hanger with wire, cord, or yarn.
- Then, grab a stick that will hold it safe and sound to make it easy to carry on a lantern walk.
- Use additional string, twine, or strong tape to keep the hanger in place on the stick (optional).
- Or, make Martinmas lanterns with mason jars and colored tissue paper, complete with a lovely finger-knit handle–> HERE. Towards the end of the DIY video, you can see how the lantern looks when lit and hear Sarah sing, “I Go With My Bright Little Lantern.” (A traditional lantern walk song. Scroll down to see (and hear) a few more lantern walk songs.)
DIY Balloon Lanterns
Learn how to make balloon lantern crafts with the step-by-step tutorials below:
- Learn how to make paper mache lanterns with a balloon and colorful tissue paper with THESE simple instructions.
- Try this gorgeous handmade balloon lantern with toilet paper and real leaves with a simple craft you can make with THIS video tutorial by Whizzy Crafts.
Best Luminaries for Lanterns
Several types of light sources can be used to illuminate a lantern on a dark night. While candles provide a nice warm glow, they can be hot and dangerous, especially in a paper lantern.
However, most Waldorf teachers use real beeswax tealight candles in their lanterns because they believe carrying fire helps the child remain reverent as they walk. But they do add a little bit of sand to the bottom of the lanterns to make them safer. Another safe option is using a flameless candle.
Carrying real candles can also be hot, depending on the type of lantern and the length of the handle. This is why many people put them on sticks to carry them. Because we live in an area where wildfires ravage the earth, and we like to venture out into nature under the moon on a lantern walk, we often use fairy string lights to light our lanterns to keep our world safe.
Fairy string lights look especially nice in mason jar lanterns, as shown in the photograph of the leaf lantern below. Best of all, the way we make them keeps the glass held together even if they are accidentally dropped. Click the link above to learn how to make your own!
Traditional Lantern Songs for a Lantern Walk
Several songs are traditionally sung as children walk with their lanterns spiraling into the deep night. Similar to the story of St. Martin, there are often a few different translations or variations of the same song. Where the words are slightly changed, or the songs have a somewhat different rhythm or cadence.
Scroll down to read the lyrics to several lantern walk songs you can use on your autumn lantern walk. There is no need to memorize every word of every song. Sing the lantern song versions that you like best to add your voice to the joy and merriment of the festivities!
We made a printable with traditional lantern songs you can download and print. Grab your copy of the lyrics for each of the traditional Martinmas lantern songs on this list HERE—> Traditional Lantern Walk Songs.
You can find links to videos and audio recordings that make it easy to learn the songs for your lantern walk. For example, HERE is a collection of nine Waldorf Martinmas Lantern Walk songs that parents, educators, and community members can listen to and memorize. Another comprehensive collection of lantern songs by the Cincinnati Waldorf School is listed HERE.
The Lantern Song The sunlight fast is dwindling, My little lamp needs kindling. Its beam shines far in darkest night. Dear lantern guard me With your light.
The Lantern Song by the Cincinnati Waldorf School: Listen HERE.
Glimmer, Lantern, Glimmer Glimmer, lantern, glimmer Little stars a-shimmer Over meadow, moor and dale Flitter, flutter, elfin veil Pee-wit, pee-wit, tikka-tikka-tik Rucoo, rucoo. Glimmer, lantern, glimmer Little stars a-shimmer Over rock and stock and stone Wandering, skipping, little gnome Pee-wit, pee-wit, tikka-tikka-tik Rucoo, rucoo.
Glimmer Lantern Glimmer by Saltwater Waldorf School: Listen HERE.
High and Blue the Sky High and blue the sky, trees are very tall; wild geese flying seem so small. See, on silent wings in flocks they go never parting from a single row. We go through the land, like a wild gees band; brothers/sisters in one flight are we. Clear and dark the night, stars are very bright; lanterns shining seem so small See, in single file we walk along, singing joyfully our lantern song. We go through the land, like a wild gees band: brothers/sisters of one light are we.
High and Blue the Sky by Lorraine Nelson Wolf: Listen HERE.
I'm Walking With My Lantern I’m walking with my lantern, my lantern walks with me Above the stars are shining bright, down here on Earth shine we. The cock does crow, the cat meows, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom. My light goes out, we’re going home, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom. I’m walking with my lantern, my lantern walks with me Above the stars are shining bright, down here on Earth shine we. So shine your light through the still dark night, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom. My light goes out, we’re going home, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom.
Here’s another slightly different version of the song, “I Walk With My Little Lantern,” by Lorraine Nelson Wolf: Listen HERE.
Or, I Go With My Little Lantern I go with my bright little lantern, my lantern is going with me. In heaven the stars are shining, on earth shines my lantern with me, The cock does crow, the cat miaows, Lantern shines, la bimba- labamba-labim.
Grab your copy of the lyrics for these traditional Martinmas lantern songs HERE—> Traditional Lantern Walk Songs.
Enjoy or Organize a Lantern Walk Festival
In many cultures around the world, lantern walks are incorporated into Martinmas festivals, autumn festivals, and harvest celebrations worldwide. These events often occur during the fall when the days grow shorter, and lanterns serve both practical and symbolic purposes, providing light during the darker evenings and representing the beauty of the changing season.
Find a lantern walk near you, or use the celebration ideas gathered here to create a lantern walk festival in your home, school, or community this Autumn. You may also be interested in learning more about the Fall Equinox. Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE.