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Legends, culture light up the night





The children clutched their glowing hand-crafted lanterns as they paraded behind the Roman soldier's red flowing cloak at Lantern Fest.

Friday's celebration of the Feast of St. Martin at the Kris Kuksi Fine Art Gallery was attended by approximately 20 grade school and preschool children and their parents. Fort Hays State University's German Club and German exchange students staffed the stations, and Kris Kuksi hosted it.

Participants created their own lanterns, made caramel apples, baked cookies and decorated them with raisins, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. The cookies represented the Weckmanner, a German holiday cookie similar to a gingerbread man.

There was a shadow puppet show to act out the saint's tale. One part asked the children to mimic geese that appeared in the story.

"Quack! Quack! Quack!" the children yelled at the shadows on the sheet.

Codi Fenwick, co-founder of the Language Club, organized the fifth-annual event. Lantern Fest was started by fellow co-founder Gwyn Kuksi, but she recently moved to Lawrence and is expecting a baby soon, Fenwick said.

Kuksi said the Language Club is an enrichment program that supports keeping languages alive. Even though it began as German club, it wants to be inclusive with international languages and other cultures, she said.

Fenwick said she read children's stories in German about Lantern Fest at the library last week.

St. Martin, a Roman soldier, encountered a homeless man with little clothing, and Martin cut a piece of his own cloak to give the man warmth, Fenwick said. Martin had a dream Jesus was wearing the same cloak, and Jesus told him to be kind to everyone, Fenwick said.

The Catholic community wanted to make Martin a bishop, but he hid in a barn because he was humble, she said. A gander of geese betrayed his location, and Martin was found and made a bishop, Fenwick said.

St. Martin's charitable work was a metaphorical light in the darkness, and he became associated with lanterns, she said. Many Germans have a wall of lanterns they crafted growing up, Fenwick said.

Kuksi said other cultures have traditions surrounding light and its representation for safety and the good inside people. The program also suited those customs.

"Let's embrace the light and warmth from within," Kuksi said.

Zuzanna Lewandowska, an FHSU graduate student from Essen, Germany, said there is a welcoming cultural awareness in Hays.

"It makes me proud," she said. "It makes me happy to come to this place and to talk to people, and everybody's very excited about the fact that we are from Germany."

Annika Maximov, 7, Gwyn Kuksi's daughter, said she enjoys introducing new experiences to her peers.

"I really like it, and I was born in Germany," Maximov said. "I think it's a pretty good program for learning German, and to spread news about Germany all around America so they'll learn about Germany."

The program also included singing traditional German songs and a parade inside the store led by a man dressed as a Roman soldier.