What is Sint-Maarten and how can you celebrate it?

What is Sint-Maarten and how can you celebrate it?

Countries all around the world have their own special traditions and, of course, the Netherlands is no different. Halloween has grown in popularity over the past few years, but the original knocking-on-door tradition here in the Netherlands is Sint-Maarten on November 11. 

New to the country? Here’s everything you need to know about Sint-Maarten - so that you’re prepared, or so your little ones can take part in this fun song-filled day. 

History of the Dutch tradition of Sint-Maarten 

The Festival of Sint-Maarten is celebrated every year on November 11 in countries around the world, most notably Belgium, Germany, Northern France and, of course, the Netherlands. It is the name day of Martin of Tours, the third bishop of Tours, France, who is most known for the account of him using his military sword to cut his cloak in two, giving half to a freezing beggar in the middle of winter.

The celebration originated with the Catholic Church in France before gaining in popularity and spreading across Europe. The day is used to honour the life of St Martin and was historically marked by a feast. Traditionally, the day also marked the end of autumn and the start of winter and coincided with the annual harvest.

How does the Netherlands celebrate Sint-Maarten?

The festival has been celebrated in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. Traditionally, the day is marked by a mass, and up until the start of the 20th century it was generally regarded as a “beggars' holiday.” 

Nowadays, Sint-Maarten isn't as popular as it once was, and many families no longer celebrate it. However, the festival is still important in parts of the Netherlands, most notably 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 honour of the Saint. 

If you aren’t planning on taking part with your kids, it is perhaps worth stocking up on some sweets or snacks so that you are prepared in case any children ring your doorbell.

How expats can get involved this Sint-Maarten

If you and your family want to get involved in the Dutch holiday this year, here's everything you need to know to celebrate Sint-Maarten properly.

Make a Sint-Maarten lantern

The first step is making sure you've got the right equipment. If you want to celebrate the holiday, you and your family can have fun making your own lanterns in preparation for the big night - of course, you could always use a store-bought paper lantern, but making your own is a lot more fun!

There are some tutorials out there for more extravagant lanterns, such as this colourful option from Lady Lemonade:

Or you could go for something a little simpler, like this fun little rocket: 

Learn the traditional Sint-Maarten songs

Seeing as the whole celebration centres around knocking on doors and singing in exchange for sweets, the songs, of course, play a very central role. So, if you're hoping to take part this year, it might be handy to practice ahead of time and learn the lyrics before hitting the streets. Regardless of how much Dutch you've learned, these simple songs are a great way to honour the traditional aspects of the day while also brushing up on your language skills.

There are several Sint-Maarten songs to choose from, but here are some of the more popular ones. 

11 November is de dag:

Elf november is de dag (November 11 is the day)
Dat mijn lichtje (That my light)
Dat mijn lichtje (That my light)
Elf november is de dag (November 11 is the day)
Dat mijn lichtje branden mag (That my light can burn)
Twaalf november is de dag (November 12 is the day)
Dat ik mag snoepen (That I can snack)
Dat ik mag snoepen (That I can snack)
Twaalf november is de dag (November 12 is the day)
Dat ik mag snoepen de hele dag (That I can snack all day)

Ik Loop Hier Met Mijn Lantaarn:

Ik loop hier met mijn lantaarn (I'm walking here with my lantern)
Lantarentje loopt met mij (Little lantern walk with me)
Daarboven daar stralen de sterren (Above there shine the stars)
Beneden stralen wij (We shine down here)
Mijn licht is aan (My lamp is on)
Ik loop vooraan (I walk ahead)
Rabimmel Rabammel Rabom 
Mijn licht is uit (My lamp is off)
Ik ga naar huis (I'm going home)
Rabimmel Rabammel Rabom

Sinte Sinte Maarten:

Sinte, Sinte Maarten 
De koeien hebben staarten (The cows have tails)
De meisjes hebben rokjes aan (The girls are wearing skirts) 
Daar komt Sinte Maarten aan (There comes Sinte Maarten)

Go out, wrap up warm, and have fun!

Well, there you have it - now you know everything you need to know to celebrate Sint-Maarten like Dutchie. You've made your lantern and learnt the words to all the songs - or you've stocked up on sweets, chocolates and mandarins - and are looking forward to a cosy night in. Whatever you choose to do on November 11, have fun and enjoy the Dutch festivities!

What are your plans for Sint-Maarten? Let us know in the comments below!

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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