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Sint Maarten – the Dutch Halloween?

In just under one week, excited children in America, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland will carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, gather around crackling bonfires to share ghost stories and dress up in their most scary costumes to go ‘trick or treating’ with friends. Yet despite a concerted effort by Dutch shops to promote Halloween in the Netherlands, the Dutch seem determined to ignore this pagan celebration, preferring to enjoy their own special festival, known as Sint Maarten, instead.

Sint Maarten Sint Maarten
De koeien hebben staarten
De meisjes hebben rokjes aan
Daar komt Sint Martinus aan

Sint Maarten Sint Maarten
The cows have tails
The girls wear skirts
Sint Martinus is coming

These are the words of the famous Sint Maarten song that Dutch children sing as they walk from door to door, bearing bright lanterns and collecting a range of delicious sweets and other treats as they go. In this respect Sint Marten is not that unlike Halloween, although Dutch children don’t dress up as ghouls and ghosts to frighten their neighbours and neither do they greet those answering the door with the familiar cry of “trick or treat!”

Despite the similarities between Halloween and Sint Maarten, the two celebrations are not actually related. Halloween was established by the Celts in Great Britain to celebrate ‘All Hallows Eve’ on 31st October, which as the Celtic calendar began on 1st November each year, was their equivalent to New Years Eve. In contrast, Sint Maarten is of Catholic origin and is observed on November 11th, the Name Day of popular medieval saint and bishop, Martinus van Tours.

In the Netherlands Sint Maarten was traditionally regarded as a feast for the poor, but has enjoyed widespread popularity since the 1920’s, particularly in Limburg, Noord-Holland and Groningen. It’s a time when Dutch adults up and down the country stock up on typical Dutch sweets, in readiness for the hordes of children that will call on the evening of 11th November and, increasingly for those that celebrate Halloween!

4 comments on “Sint Maarten – the Dutch Halloween?

  1. vic iriarte
    08/11/2013

    Pretty much all schools in Amsterdam celebrate Sint Maarten, odd that this is not the case in Rotterdam? Tons of school kids will meet up in Beatrix part this coming Monday to celebrate it 🙂

    • Monique
      28/10/2014

      Dutch dont have halloween my parents got married on this day at least 58yrs ago nov 11th is st martins songs are sung in fact on my birthday whic is nov 11th my cousin came to the house I was staying played with an accordian which I kept for years

  2. Trudy Knoop-Corriveau
    27/10/2012

    Wow, that sure is news to me! I grew up in Rotterdam, Holland and never heard of Sint Maarten? We celebrated Sinterklaas each year on December 5/6th. I wonder if this was just done in the few places you mentioned? I certainly don’t remember singing that little Dittie either…

    • Grace Deltscheff
      18/11/2012

      To Trudy, I was born in West Friesland in the province of North Holland and, indeed, on the evening of November 11, we went with small lanterns from house to house and collected some sweets or fruits. However, our song had more lines, in Dutch;
      Sinte, Sinte Maarten de kalveren dragen staarten
      de koeien dragen horens
      de kerken dragen torens
      de torens dragen klokken
      de meisjes dragen rokken
      de jongens dragen broeken
      oude vrouwen schorteldoeken.
      Hier woont een rijk man
      die veel geven kan
      veel zal hij geven
      lang zal hij leven
      Honderd duizend lichtjes aan
      Hier komt Sinte Maarten aan.

      I wrote it in Dutch because it rhymes so nicely. I hope you can read it.

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