Sint-Maarten (St. Martin’s Day) is a popular children’s feast day in many parts of the Netherlands. Typically, in the early winter evening of November 11, small groups of children can be heard going up and down the street singing songs and reciting poems, armed with lit lanterns. As a reward, they are given sweet treats, in a custom similar to American Halloween, but not quite as commercial.
Origins of Sint-Maarten
St. Martin’s Day is an old harvest festival that is celebrated in many European countries and precedes the fasting period of Advent, which begins on November 12. It is named after St. Martin of Tours, a revered European saint who was known for his kindness to strangers.
Lanterns Made from Turnips & Beets
Traditionally, the children’s lanterns were made of hollowed out turnips or sugar beets dangling on a string tied to a stick, but these days Dutch children often make their own brightly decorated paper versions at school. These lantern processions are known as keuvelen or ruusbuzen. In the Limburg province of the Netherlands, the processions sometimes end at a bonfire, called a vreugdevuur or troshoop.
What probably started as a custom that allowed impoverished children to beg for alms during the harsh winter months has since become a fun holiday. There are no strict rules about what children may recite or sing, and many kids make up their own nonsensical rhyming songs, or songs that contain humorous or satirical elements.
Sint Maarten wat is het koud (‘St. Martin, it is so cold’)
geef me een turfje of wat hout (‘give me some peat or wood’)
geef me een half centje (‘give me a half cent’)
dan ben je m’n beste ventje (‘and you’ll be my best friend’)
geef me een appel of een peer (‘give me an apple or a pear’)
dan kom ik het hele jaar niet meer (‘and you won’t see me again all year’)
Here is another traditional Sint-Maarten song:
Sinte Maarten krikske vuur, (St. Martin, make a cherry wood fire)
Leg de pannenkoeken op het vuur. (and put the pancakes on)
We hebben al zo lang gelopen (We’ve been walking for so long)
Nergens gaan de deuren open (and nobody’s opened their door)
Geef ons een pannekoek uit de pan. (give us a pancake hot from the pan)