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St. Maartens Day: A sweet local tradition

Today is St Maartens Day here in Groningen, a children’s tradition that is relatively unique to this area.

On the 11th of November, once the sun goes down, children go door-to-door begging for sweets. Instead of threatening “trick or treat” like on Halloween, the deal here is that they sing a song, and in return, they get a piece of candy or fruit.

(We have our own tradition, unique to this one home, as far as I know, of giving a small sample tube of toothpaste with each piece of candy we hand out. The parents trailing around with their kids particularly like that touch.)

a sweet tradition on St. Maartens Day

Children at the door with their lanterns on St. Maartens

The children always carry lanterns, usually ones they’ve made at school of paper and cellophane, lit by a small electric light on a stick.


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According to Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, the older tradition on St Maartens Day was that the lanterns were carved out of sugar beets with a small candle burning inside. Sounds a lot like the Halloween jack o’ lantern, doesn’t it?

The children arrive, ring the bell, and as soon as you open the door, they belt out a song in their unreliable quaver as fast as possible so they can get their candy all the sooner. Sometimes if the child is very young, it takes a bit of coaxing to get them to sing. They’re very simple songs. One of them goes like this:

Elf November is de dag

Dat mijn lichtje, dat mijn lichtje

Elf november is de dag

Dat mijn lichtje branden mag.

This roughly translates as “The eleventh of November is the day, that my lantern, that my lantern. The eleventh of November is the day, that my lantern can burn.” But in Dutch it rhymes, of course.Candy for St. Maartens day

I love St Maartens Day. It’s so simple and straightforward. No religion (despite its name), no politics (like on Sinterklaas): just kids and their love of sweets. The only commercialization that happens around St. Maartens Day is a few extra displays of candy at the supermarket. It’s only celebrated in a few places in Holland, Belgium and France, so we feel a sense of ownership. It’s ours, and we like it just the way it is.

Update October 2018: It’s spreading! Apparently St Maartens Day is happening in more and more parts of the Netherlands these days.

Are there any particularly local holiday traditions in your part of the world?

4 Comments

  • Simone

    November 11, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    don’t forget Germany! St. Martin is my favourite holiday and it is celebrated in such a nice way the area that I am from (northern Rhine area). For us, the story of St. Martin was always an important part (he shares his coat with a beggar in the street) and many of the songs are about it, too. Unlike the kids in Groningen, we walked through the streets with all kids from school, with St. Martin on horseback in front, holding our lanterns and singing the songs. When we got back to school, we would all get some sweets. We also had carved sugar beets (a mandatory school project…), but those were much less popular than the colourful paper lanterns.

    Reply
  • Brianna

    November 11, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I love learning about traditions around the world! I did not know about this holiday, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I think it’s adorable that the kids have to sing for their treats!

    Reply

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