St. Martin’s Day in Northern France – It’s all about Beets, Lanterns and a Donkey!

Here’s the legend of St. Martin and his donkey from the area of Dunkerque, France…

St. Martin was journeying one very dark night with his donkey. The animal took off into the dunes. The children in the town were given lanterns to help find St. Martin’s donkey. They quickly found it. They paraded back with the donkey and their lanterns in a festive mood. To thank them, St. Martin turned the donkey’s droppings into rolls, to everyone’s delight! Nowadays, around St. Martin’s day you can find volaerens (special buns named after the word for droppings in Flemish) in bakeries all around Dunkerque.

Beets are also a symbol of this day celebrating the end of the harvest season.

There’s a competition about who can make the best lantern or make the nicest engraving out of a beet. The children also march around with lanterns on the night of St. Martin’s Day and they’re given volaerens. They sing songs too! Here’s one of the most popular songs they sing in French with the English translation below…

Saint Martin boit du vin

Saint Martin boit du vin
Dans la rue des capucins.
Il a bu la goutte.
Il l’a pas payée
On l’a mis à la porte
Avec un coup d’balai

Here’s an English translation, thanks to Monique Palomares…

St. Martin’s Drinking Wine

St Martin’s drinking wine,
In Capucins Street,
He drank some brandy,
Didn’t pay for it,
They threw him out
With the stroke of a broom.

Monique later pointed out, “It’s ’cause of St. Martin that we call donkeys Martin in France.”

My entry about The History and Traditions of St. Martin’s Day.

Here are two songs children sing in Germany for St. Martin’s Day, each in German and with an English translation.

Belgian songs sung on St. Martin’s Day, plus about how St. Martin’s Day is like Christmas in parts of Belgium.

Come visit the Mama Lisa’s World France page for more French children’s songs with their English translations and…

Mama Lisa’s World en français for children’s songs around the world with their French translations.

This article was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2005 at 3:12 pm and is filed under Children's Songs, France, French, French Kids Songs, Holiday Songs, Holidays Around the World, Saint Martin boit du vin, St. Martin's Day, St. Martin's Day Songs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “St. Martin’s Day in Northern France – It’s all about Beets, Lanterns and a Donkey!”

  1. Hello Lisa Says:

    I like your site. I’m looking for a St. Martin Legend in which a poor goatherd is trying to get the time and materials to make himself a pair of boots. In his country there’s a story that St. Marting comes on his feast day in the form of a flying horse to choose one good man to carry away to have the day to spend just doing the work of his heart. Is it one you’ve heard of? If so, I’m looking for a copy; if not, do you want me to send you a copy when I find it? Be well.

    Michael Imes

  2. Lisa Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for writing. I’m not familiar with that legend. I’d like to post a copy of it once you find it. I’d also be curious to know if it’s from a specific country or region.

    Best wishes,


  3. Kathleen Says:

    I am writing some material for children’s leaders to use with children around St. Martinstide. The organisation I work for is The Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade ( and our youngest section is called the martins after St. Martin (our organisation started on Nov 11th many years ago and he quickly became our Patron saint). I read on one site that the Germans bake special bread – martinsmannchen, but I can’t find a recipe. Have you heard of this and, if so, do you know the recipe?

    With thanks


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