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Celebrations in Holland: Sint Maarten

Being an expat means that you are immersed in wealth of new cultural experiences. As a new expat arriving in Noord Holland in the Autumn of 2016, my husband and I were surprised by our children more than once with new expectations that we were not prepared for.

Through discussions with the many new families who have recently arrived, we learned that it would be helpful to occasionally write posts on our site explaining Dutch customs and celebrations to help new parents get acclimated to Noord Holland. This post is the first of several you can expect this school year.

Sint Maarten

Each November 11, children in North Holland celebrate Sint Maarten. In village centers like Bergen, Schoorl, Alkmaar and Koedijk, after dark the streets are buzzing with children walking door to door singing songs coaxing folks out of their homes to reward their singing with candy. In Schoorl you can actually walk from business to business, as they close their doors early to participate in this wonderful community celebration. If you live in a village center, you will likely have children stopping at your door hoping for a treat. So- if you’re not keen- or not home- turn off your porch lights to avoid disappointing children who will come singing at your door. But no stress- there isn’t a custom of “tricks” if no treats are given. If you are keen, you can pick up mini candy bags at your local grocery store or provide an alternative like a small toy or other treat.

What the Children Can Expect
Children dress in normal, everyday clothes (no costumes like Halloween), and they sing one of the many Sint Maarten songs as they go door to door. Once the residents of each home hear the children, they come out to listen to the remainder of the song. Pleasantries and greetings are exchanged, and then they give the children a treat. Some of the food purveyors will offer free snacks as well. When finding a good place to walk around, it’s best to stay close to village centers. For example you’ll find folks close to the Bergen Plein and the shops in Schoorl center.

Lanterns and Lighted Sticks (Lampions & Lampionstokjes)
Most primary classes will make lanterns in school, so ask your teacher if this is something they already have planned. If not, there are many examples of lanterns you can make here.  You will also need to purchase a “lampionstokje met lampje”. This is a plastic stick with a light at the end of a string that hangs down to illuminate your lantern. It looks much like a fishing rod in my opinion. You hang the lanterns at the end. They are offered at many of the local popular shops like HEMA, Kruidvat, Xenos, and Action. You can even buy them online here at Much of the fun is seeing the children and their creative, beautiful lanterns line the streets with children.

Sint Maarten Songs
The songs are in Dutch, but no stress! Many of the teachers will incorporate learning the songs in class to help prepare your child for the celebration. Some even learn them in French, English and Dutch. However you can also practice at home before the big night! Here is a link to a site that includes lyrics and youtube videos for many of the popular songs.

History of Sint Maarten

Saint Martin of Tours started out as a Roman soldier then was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The best known legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me.” St. Martin was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor. This holiday originated in France, then spread to the Low Countries, the British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. It celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the end of the harvest. Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, who died in 490, ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin’s Day (11 November). In the 6th century, local councils required fasting on all days except Saturdays and Sundays from Saint Martin’s Day to Epiphany (the Feast of the Three Wise Men and the star, c.f. Matthew 2: 1-12) on January 6, a period of 56 days, but of 40 days fasting, like the fast of Lent. It was therefore called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin’s Lent).This period of fasting was later shortened and called “Advent” by the Church. [Source: Wikipedia]
Nicole GottholdCelebrations in Holland: Sint Maarten

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