A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Sint Maarten: the Dutch Halloween like tradition

Tomorrow it’sĀ  Halloweeeen! The day of ghosts and horror stories, dressing up and going spooky parties, cozying up behind the tv to watch horror movies, whatever horrorish events you have planned, I hope you have fun! As you might have noticed though, Halloween isn’t the biggest party in the Netherlands, while yes there are more and more Halloween parties being organised around the cities, and in some places kids are going trick or treating, it has not established itself that much yet in Dutch culture. There is however a different tradition that is very similar, that is celebrated in large parts of the Netherlands. namely Sint Maarten. I thought this pre-Halloween night would be an excelent opportunity to tell you a bit more about this tradition.

sint maarten lantaarn

Sint Maarten, or in English, Saint Martin, is an originally catholic celebration, that for the most part is focussed on children. On the 11th of November, children often up to the age of 12 go door to door singing songs while holding onto lanterns to ask for candy. The lanterns are often self made and finely decorated with colourful paper and in interesting shapes, such as owls or ghosts. Other traditions that are also celebrated on these nights are the lighting of bonfires and parades, depending on which part of the country you are in, however the door to door parade is the most common feature. Originally this tradition was celebrated most widely in the nordern parts of the Netherlands, such as North Holland, Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe, as well as in some parts of Belgium and on Saint Martin (the island), and mostly took place in countryside villages and towns. In more recent decades it has also become an important tradition in the province Utrecht, as well as Amsterdam, where it hadn’t been celebrated for hundreds of years.

It is relatively obvious to whom the day owes it’s day, as it is the aniversary of the passing of Saint Martin, who was patron saint of the poor. However it is not entirely clear how this is connected to ritual of children going door to door with a lantern, some speculate thatm, with this going door to door originally being a peasant tradition, it was a way means of tolerating begging for one night, in which the rich would give food to poor children. OthersĀ attribute it to non-christian origins from Germany, the same tradition that Halloween originally stems from. In recent decades, the catholic nature of the festivity has diminished despite its namesake, and people from all different religious backgrounds have started to partake in the tradition.

Do you celebrate Halloween, or do you follow traditions that are somewhat similar to these? Share your story in a comment!

One comment on “Sint Maarten: the Dutch Halloween like tradition

  1. Connie Johnson
    October 26, 2021

    St Maarten is indeed a Catholic celebration, Saint part should give that away. Halloween or All Saints Day is also a Catholic tradition. It is the fun part at Halloween that has made the celebration popular with Catholic and non-Catholic The Netherlands is actually not a Catholic country.

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