Saint Martin’s Day

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We don’t really do Halloween. In the fall you may see the typical decorations like carved pumpkins on the front porches, but it never really was a tradition in the Netherlands to celebrate “All Hallow’s Eve” on October 31th. Although it’s becoming more popular now over here, Halloween has to combat another holiday that is celebrated around the same time, November 11th: Saint Martin’s Day, or in Dutch: Sint Maarten.

Legend of St. Martin of Tours

This originally Catholic celebration is popular in several parts of the country, even among people that never were Catholic (including us). The story behind it is about the Roman soldier Martin, who was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor. The most famous legend concerning him was that he had once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the latter from the cold. He was proclaimed a saint based on his good deeds.


St. Martin of Tours is pictured in several paintings

Three of my boys with their paper lanterns on November 11th

Dutch Tradition

St. Martin’s remembrance is celebrated by children walking down the streets, singing songs at the doors, armed with lit paper lanterns. As a reward, they are given sweet treats.  It’s a custom similar to American Halloween, but less “scary” since it’s not about tricking people, nor about dressing up, but the kids have to “earn” their sweets by singing. In this video below you can watch some of these children’s songs about Saint Martin:

Lots of candy!

Armed with our paper lanterns (the kids crafted them in school, although I bought one for my youngest) and of course a large backpack for our sweet “rewards”, we walked up and down the streets tonight as soon as it got dark (around 6 pm). Everywhere you could see small groups of children with their twinkling lights, and you could hear songs about Saint Martin’s good deeds – or just about his goat that lost all his teeth or his mouse who ended up in the hospital. The goal is to get as much candy as possible, of course 😉 And if we are lucky, it’s not even raining.

Well, we weren’t that lucky this time, so after a few streets the paper lanterns were rained out and we were getting cold… So we called it a day and went home, to count our treats. One thing is for sure though, we’ll have enough candy for weeks to come!

– Anne

Singing before the doors
After a song they can choose a treat
If you make an effort to sing a more unknown song, you might even get two treats!




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