Sint Maarten

Elf November is de dag/November 11 is the day

Dat mijn lichtje/That my little light,

Dat mijn lichtje/That my little light,

Elf November is de dag/November 11 is the day

Dat mijn lichtje branden mag/That my little light can shine.

It’s gusting up to 100 km/hour and rain and hail are beating against the windows.  Somewhere out there Sam and Noa are bringing a little more light into the dark (and stormy) night with their lanterns;  bags ready and waiting to be filled with treats.  Candy is highly motivating (as I mentioned in this post)…

It is Sint Maarten, a night when children go door to door in the evening with their lanterns, singing songs about the Saint in return for a treat.  Sam made his lantern at school this year.  Noa and I worked on hers at home today.  The stores sell little lantern holders with a tiny battery operated bulb; much preferable to candles when braving such a stiff breeze.  The kids are covered in rain gear with hats and mittens… ready to go.  I took them over to Oma and Opa’s and a few other houses first.  Now Maarten is out with them and I put Mylo to bed and am cozy by the front windows waiting for any die-hards that my straggle by.  Five so far. 

A little history:  Sint Maarten was born in 316 in Hungary and went to serve in the Roman army at the age of 15.  By the port of the city of Amiens in France he met a beggar and cut his red soldiers’ cloak in two with his sword and gave one half to the beggar; his most famous deed in a life full of love for his fellow-men, especially those less fortunate than he.  He was named bishop of Tours and founded several monasteries in France.  He died in 397 and the Vatican declared him a Saint in 650.  

photo from

Many churches and villages are named after him in the Netherlands, and his popularity (as the patron saint of travelers, peddlers, the poor and beggars, reformed drunkards, herders, farmers, children and livestock) even survived the Reformation (it didn’t hurt that Maarten Luther was baptized on November 11th and shared his name).

In rural areas, Sint Maarten was easily combined with the festivities surrounding the end of the harvest and the slaughtering of the fattened animals before the winter.  The first celebrations heralded back to non-christian days with the collection or stealing of wood or turf for burning bon-fires and general ruckus and rabble-rousing.  In the Middle Ages, boys would go door to door with torches and clubs, banging on the doors demanding fuel for the fires to ward off the winter dark and cold.  They also received apples, nuts or coins.  These Saint Maarten Fires were a tradition long before that of carrying lanterns door to door and singing songs.  In some regions of the Netherlands – especially Friesland (in the NorthWest) – these fires are still lit.

Going door to door with lanterns seems to date back no further than the early 1800s.  There are various theories as to the origin.  One states that it is related to the bible text often read in the Catholic Church on Sint Maarten:  No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light (Luke 11:33).  Others believe it is related to All Saints Day on November 2.  Originally Sint Maarten fell on November 1, but was moved to November 11th after the Gregorian Calander was put into use in 1582.  Either way, it’s a perfect excuse to light up the darkness on a cold autumn night.

Wishing you all a warm and cozy Sint Maarten.  

Sinte Sinte Maarten/Saint Saint 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 Saint Maarten

Noa’s song of choice this year (you know, mama, the one about the meisjes and the lokjes)

*My source on the history of Sint Maarten was Nederlands Jaarfeesten en hun Liederen Door de Eeuwen Heen  by Marita Kruijswijk and Marian Nesse.

This entry was posted in Culture, History, Holidays, kids and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Sint Maarten

  1. Mom says:

    And a Happy Sint Maarten to all of you! Wish the kids could have come singing to our door. Thanks for writing so much about the holiday and the traditions Ida. It was very interesting! Hope the weather has settled…looks like Sam and Noa were ready for anything. I loved getting to see their lanterns!

  2. Pingback: Welcome, Sint! | Life in the Lowlands

  3. michiel says:

    Hay Ida, very interesting, I didn’t know all the things you found. Thank you.
    It was so nice to see only some tuff kids coming trough the bad weather, to sing their song for the candies. Verena

  4. Pingback: The Life of a Saint | Life in the Lowlands

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