11 November is the day! So starts the traditional Sint Maarten's Day song. You'll know this holiday has arrived when you see kids with paper lanterns ringing doorbells in your neighbourhood. If you're new to Amsterdam, longtime Amsterdam Mamas volunteer Cessna Kleinmoodig Veeris is here to fill you in on this very special November tradition.
Every year in the month of October, the main Amsterdam Mamas Facebook page is flooded with (new to Amsterdam) parents asking about Halloween and wanting to go door to door with their kids to Trick-Or-Treat. What most of these parents don’t realize is that, although Halloween has grown in popularity over the past few years, the original knocking-on-door tradition here in the Netherlands is still Sint Maarten on November 11.
What is Sint Maarten's Day?
Sint Maarten, also called Old Halloween and Old Hallowmas Eve, is a celebration that originated with the Catholic Church in France before gaining in popularity and spreading across Europe. The day is used to honor the life of St Martin, who was known as a friend of the children and a patron of the poor. Historically, the celebration was marked by a feast, which much like the American Thanksgiving, was a celebration of the annual harvest and marked the end of autumn and the start of winter. Over the years, the celebration expanded to the building of bonfires and children carrying lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.
The festival has been celebrated in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. However, nowadays, Sint Maarten isn't as popular as it once was, and is mainly celebrated in the provinces of Limburg and North Holland. The religious origins of the festival are also less significant these days, and November 11 is generally marked by groups of children going door-to-door with homemade paper lanterns and singing songs. Other less popular traditions include lighting bonfires or hosting processions in honor of the Saint.
How to Celebrate It
If you are interested in Sint Maarten events, you should know that the city of Utrecht is considered the ‘Sint Maarten city’. In the weeks leading up to Sint Maarten, they have lots of events like the very popular Master Class Sint Maarten - workshops for making fantastic paper lanterns - or courses in Light Sculpture, which all culminates into Ronde van Sint Maarten. There are also many exhibitions, walks, lectures, a free meal for the homeless, and an ecumenical vespers in the Cathedral. On the Friday evening and Saturday evening before November 11, there’s a bonfire on the Berlijnplein in Leidsche Rijn and the Sint Maarten Parade in the city center. In Amsterdam, the Hemlab has Sint Maarten activities for kids every Saturday in the month of November.
But to get in the spirit of Sint Maarten, 11 November 11 the day! Even if you aren’t planning to go door to door with your kids on this day, it’s wise to stock up on candy and mandarins, so when children ring the doorbell, singing their songs, you won’t disappoint them.
If you want to get more involved with this Dutch tradition, you can have fun making your own lanterns in preparation for the big night. You can also purchase paper lanterns at any store but know that a lot of schools also dedicate time to Sint Maarten and end up making lanterns with kids at school. Schools that dedicate time to Sint Maarten most likely will also spend time learning the Sint Maarten songs with kids. However, if you want to sing along, you can practice the 2 most popular Sint Maarten songs, “11 November is de dag” and “Sinte Sinte Maarten”.
If you are not going out in the cold on Sint Maarten, make sure to stock up on sweets, chocolates, and mandarins and if you are braving it with the kids, have the lanterns lit up and sing to your heart’s desire. Whatever you do, make it Dutchie cozy traditional style.
Happy Sint Maarten!
Cessna Kleinmoedig Veeris has shared her talents with Amsterdam Mamas in many capacities: Event Manager for the Spooky Buggy Parade and Santa Tram & Christmas Market for several years, Grant Writer, and now as an Admin in our main Facebook group. She has a 10 year old daughter and 3 year old son and is busy with them while embarking on her new journey as a working mom.