Dutch History; Sint-Maarten Dag, the Dutch Halloween.

Sint-Maarten (St. Martin’s Day) is a popular children’s feast day in many parts of the Netherlands. On the evening of November 11th, small groups of children can be heard going up and down the street singing songs and reciting poems, equipped with lit lanterns. As a reward, they are given sweet treats, in a custom similar to American Halloween.

 Sint-Maarten; Martin of Tours.

St. Martin was known as the friend of the children and patron of the poor. This holiday originated in Tours France and then spread to the Low Countries, the British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.

Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who was baptised as an adult and became a monk. The most famous legend concerning him was that he had once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the latter from the cold. That night, he dreamt of Jesus, wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels,

Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me.  [1]

Saint Martin died on November 8th, 397.

Sint-Maarten the day of feasts.

The goose became a symbol of St. Martin because of a legend that when trying to avoid being ordained bishop he had hidden in a goose pen, where he was betrayed by the cackling of the geese.  The day of St. Martin also happens to be when traditionally geese were culled for winter. St. Martin’s Day eventually became an important medieval feast, and the custom of eating goose spread to Sweden from France. It was primarily observed by the craftsmen and noblemen of the towns. In the peasant community, not everyone could afford to eat goose, so many ate duck or hen instead.

Saint Martin is the patron of vine-growers, vintners and tavern-keepers, so his day was the day of wine harvest. The day has also evolved to be a feast day of beggars, and in the Netherlands, St Martin day is celebrated by small Dutch children singing and reciting poems door to door in exchange for treats.

Sint-Maarten in the Netherlands.

Children singing songs in their neighbourhoods for treats, © https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunte-Marten.jpg

On November 11th, children walk from door to door in the evening, singing Saint Martin’s songs, and expecting some sweets or candy in return, whilst carrying their own handmade lantern.

Read Sint-Maarten day tips on how to celebrate.

Children’s lanterns traditionally 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.

Typical treats include:

  • Sweets, such as chocolate or licorice
  • Fruits, such as mandarin oranges, apples and pears
  • Nuts or nut brittles
  • Fried treats, such as oliebollen
  • Pancakes


Don’t forget to stockpile some treats for the local children who may knock on your door and sing for you on the evening of November 11th.


[1] Sulpicius, ch 2 

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