Bits of the Benelux: Münsterland keeps historic traditions alive with Lambertusfest

By Erika Rivera, USAG Benelux Public AffairsSeptember 7, 2023

Members of the community participate in Lambertusfest at the St. Pantaleon preschool in Münster, Germany, Sept. 29, 2022. During the festival, self-made lanterns were placed inside the decorated pyramids, while children, parents and teachers sung traditional folk songs accompanied by an accordion. (U.S. Army photo by Erika Rivera, USAG Benelux Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

[Editor’s Note: The following story is the 15th in the series Bits of the Benelux. This series takes a deep dive into the stories, cultures and traditions found throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.]

DÜLMEN TOWER BARRACKS, Germany – “Kinder, kommt runter, Lambertus ist munter!” (English: “Children come down, Lambertus is cheerful!”) This traditional saying marks the official opening of the “Lambertusfest,” or Lambertus Festival, held the evening before the feast day of St. Lambert on Sept. 17.

The phrase acts as an invitation for children to come out at dusk with their self-made lanterns. Surrounded by their parents, grandparents, and neighbors, they meet in the city center to partake in an annual regional custom of gathering around a wooden pyramid to hold hands and sing traditional songs.

Dating back to 1781, the festival is a cherished tradition in Münsterland that brings the local communities together and showcases the region’s unique identity.


While Lambertusfest celebrations initially look like the beginning of an early St. Martin’s parade (an event with lanterns and singing held on Nov. 11), the festival is actually something very different.

Beginning at dusk, local children gather in the city square with small self-made lanterns. They are accompanied by their parents, grandparents, an accordion player and often a local choir or historical club from their community.

The children sing along with each other while holding hands and dancing in a circle. Event organizers distribute printed lyric booklets to ensure maximum participation in the traditional Lamberti “Käskenspiel” (“Play Songs”). These include: “Hole in the Bucket” (similar to the U.S. version), “Laurentia, My Dear Laurentia” (a song where one must hold hands in a circle and squat down every time the name Laurentia or any day of the week is mentioned), and “The Lord Sends Out a Hunter”.

Customarily, the grand finale song is always the Plattdeutsch (the German dialect native to Münsterland) “O Buer, wat kost dien Hei?” (“Oh Farmer, How Much Does a Bale of Hay Cost?”).

This sing-song play is a favorite pastime. A “Buer”, Plattdeutsch for “Bauer” (farmer), walks in circles around the pyramid while singing and gathering a new companion with each verse. At the end of the song, he distributes apples from his basket.

The farmer is dressed in traditional Kipenkerl (traveling merchant) clothing, which includes a wooden basket carried on his back, a red scarf tied around his neck, a cap, a blue shirt and wooden shoes.

The city’s historical association or the local Catholic church often organizes the Lambertusfest. According to Ursel Schwanekamp, a pastoral assistant with the St. Lamberti church in Münster, during the weeks before Lambertusfest the lanterns are crafted and the songs are practiced in local schools and pre-schools.

In mid-September, the Lambertus pyramid is set up in a central area in each Münsterland community. The pyramid is comprised of a wooden frame and decorated with green branches and blooming seasonal flowers, which the children are customarily responsible for gathering.

Schwanekamp said that in the past European golden rod was used, but today “you use what you have.”

The pyramid is the centerpiece of the ceremony, and first began appearing between 1810 and 1830.

Where did Lambertusfest originate?

According to Dülmen author Annette Klaverkamp and Schwanekamp, the origin of Lambertusfest is unclear.

One hypothesis is that the festival dates back to when craftsmen worked during the long days of the summer months. By Lambertus Eve on Sept. 16, the working days began to shorten. The craftsmen therefore organized a lantern festival to symbolize bringing their artificial light [lanterns or torches] to the workplace.

On Sept. 17, 1909, Münster held the first celebration of Lambertusfest at the Lamberti fountain in Münster and later at various locations in Münsterland.

Klaverkamp also notated the similiarities between Lambertusfest and earlier traditional summer dance festivals such as the Tremsen celebration or the wreaths used during Pentecost.

Another theory is that the festival has its origin in Catholicism. Lambert von Lüttich was a bishop from Maastricht, the Netherlands, beginning in the year 632. He was slain in 708, after a dispute’s right of asylum. Many churches are named after him in Münsterland, and therefore some Münsterlanders believe the origin of the festival stems from honoring him.

During the 1850s, Lambertusfest was a very popular celebration among both “maids,” or young unmarried women, and merchants (Mägde und Knechte). However, it became banned in 1873 due to the loud singing and excessive drinking causing “disruption of public life”.

Around 1909 the festival was revived and converted into a harmless children’s festival, which is still celebrated throughout the region today.

Why is the tradition important today?

In 1909, the Lamberti fountain was built in at the Prinzipalmarkt in downtown Münster in appreciation of the festival. The celebration then spread to surrounding areas to include Altenberge, Rheine, Greven, Coesfeld, Steinfurt, Nordwalde, Dülmen and other nearby towns.

Schwanekamp explained that the older Münsteraner generation found the festival especially magical because you were allowed to go outside again after it became dark.

While the novelty of staying out late isn’t as common with modern children in Münsterland, Lambertusfest continues to be popular among all generations as a means of preserving tradition.

Additional Information

This year, Münster will hold Lambertusfest celebrations on both Sept. 16 and 17. Festivities will be held at the Mühlenhof Freilichtmuseum beginning at 3 p.m. on Sept. 16, and the Lambertuskirchplatz (St. Lamberti church square) beginning at 7 p.m.

Dülmen will celebrate Lambertusfest on Sept. 22, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Markt der Möglichkeiten (EinsA).

View a video of the Lambertusfest celebration at St. Lamberti church square (celebration from timestamps 3:05 to 11:08).

This series, Bits of the Benelux, will continue to explore the many cultural traditions in and around the Benelux. Further stories like this on the local traditions, festivals, and events are scheduled to be published monthly, as they occur.

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