Sint Maarten? And that's different from Sinterklaas? And Halloween? Lanterns? A new import to Amsterdam's take on this very Dutch holiday.
Last year in early November, the school parents' Whatsapp group had an announcement: Each child (mine was five) had to go get a battery-operated lantern for school. It was called a 'lampionstokje'.
We had four days to get it.
Apparently you could get it "everywhere".
So, dutifully (and last minute-ly), I rushed to look for, er, 'one of those things' for the child, not knowing what it was or why. I was told that Blokker had some pink ones—the child only thinks in pinks. Heaving a relieved sigh on finding a pink one, we were ready for the day. But I still did not know why. #newimporttoamsterdam
Now let's learn together, for all the new imports to Amsterdam!
Who Is Sint Maarten?
Sint Maarten (Saint Martin), according to one legend, is a Roman soldier who was approached by a beggar in the cold streets of what is now France. Martinus van Tours himself was not wealthy and all he had to keep himself warm that wintry day in November was the cape that was part of his soldier's uniform. He gave this beggar a part of his own cape.
The story of Martin of Tours 'went viral' in the 1800s and so began a tradition, on 11 November, of children and beggars forming processions seeking alms and shelter from the bitter cold. Since the 1920s, every 11 November, all around Holland, children walk down the streets with their 'lampion met lampionstokjes' (lanterns and their stickholders). They knock on doors and call out for Sint Maarten. The Dutch now celebrate the sainted soldier's act for at least two possible reasons:
Looking for the lost soldier: Some believe that soon after, the soldier Martinus van Tours disappeared. So now, the children echo the soldiers and people of past who walked down the streets looking for the lost soldier.
Celebrating generosity: Simply put, the Dutch are commemorating his act of generosity and humanity.
Honoured during mass: Today, St Martin is regarded as friend of the children and patron of the poor. The date is significant in the Catholic church calendar as it marks the end of autumn and begins the fasting period of Advent.
Note: A helpful member of the Facebook Amsterdam Mamas has schooled me: this day commemorates St Martin's burial on 11 Nov 397. It is a religious holiday, celebrated in many European countries, including the Eastern European nations. St Maarten's Day also marks the start of the Advent fasting period of which goes right up until 6 January. This period begins on the eleventh of the eleventh month of the year, at eleven minutes past eleven in the morning.
Celebrating Sint Maarten's Day today
Today, like Halloween, much of the original meaning is lost. It is now a popular event, largely celebrated by children. All over Holland, children put on their winter coats and hats and go out in groups, carrying their lanterns. And they go up to a door, knock on the door, and much like carolling, they start singing a Sint Maarten's song. In return, they get candy. And then they go to the next house. And sing. And get candy. Of course, this is more popular in the areas in Netherlands where you have streets and streets of houses, rather than apartment blocks.
Here in Amsterdam, there is the annual Sint Maarten Lampion Procession in Vondelpark. Children gather at the Koninginneweg entrance at 6pm to walk through the popular park in the twilight, accompanied by their parents and a musical band. Don't forget to put on warm clothes and shoes! Check your children's lampionstokjes' batteries (bring an extra in case!).
In schools, it is a popular tradition for the younger children to take their lanterns and go around to the different classes and sing their songs.
It is also popular to have bonfires in the evening and sit around to enjoy a warm drink and laughter.
Songs about Sint Maarten
If you're like me and you're have yet to master the Dutch language, you might be slightly perplexed when your child comes home and starts singing something you don't quite get. You assume they're about the alphabet or a monkey eating a banana, but if this is early November, they're most likely singing one of a few Sint Maarten ditties.
11 November (click to hear)
Elf november is de dag
Dat mijn lichtje, dat mijn lichtje.
Elf November is de dag
Dat mijn lichtije branden mag!
Sinte, Sinte Maarten (click to hear)
Sinte, sinte Maarten -
De koeien hebben starten!
De meisjes hebben rokjes aan!
De jongens hebben sokjes aan!
Daar komt sinte Maarten aan!
Lampion met Lampionstokjes
At the very basic, this is a clear plastic shade that is held up by a holder/stick that has a bulb at the end where the shade is hung and a battery compartment at the other end. Many schools have art sessions to dress these inexpensive plastic shades up.
Now you can indeed purchase one of these things 'anywhere'. The following places in Amsterdam are prepared for Sint Maarten:
The more exerienced may attempt to make their own lanterns, but please use an electric candle or Sint Maarten's could get confused with Bonfire Night (UK)!
Audrey Coggins is the Chief Copyeditor and Content Manager on Amsterdam Mamas. She is passionate about interior design and is still looking for the perfect vetiver candle.
All photo credits: Audrey Coggins