“11 november is de dag dat mijn lichtje, dat mijn lichtje…11 november is de dag dat mijn lichtje branden mag”
My girls have been singing that around the house and now it’s stuck in my head! See if it gets stuck in yours too (cute little Dutch Australian accents and all….)
My husband used to celebrate this as a child in Noord Holland and is still super excited about the festival! I think he’s pretty happy to have an excuse to take two kids around for snoepjes this year. My contact with the festival has only been brief so far – when I lived in The Netherlands earlier (between 2003-2007), I saw my nieces and nephews ready for their rounds with their lovely lanterns, and saw them return with BAGS full of sweets (snoepjes). I remember thinking, one day when I have kids, I’m going to have to ration out that sugar for a year!
So now the time has come for sugar rationing and this Sunday (11 November), we’ll be making the rounds in my husband’s hometown in Noord Holland. It’s all quite new to me but I know it has something to do with lanterns! So I thought it was time to do some research.
If you can read Dutch (Nederlands), there is a great Dutch language article on Wikipedia on Sint-Maarten (feest). I’ve also been talking to family members and my husband has a book from when he was a child to explain to our girls.
Put simply, it’s all based around the story of Sint Maarten. Around 1600, a soldier was out in the snow on his way to a city (not sure where!). He saw a homeless man dressed in rags sitting outside the city gates. He drew his sword and some of his fellow soldiers though he was going to slay the man – but instead he cut his cloak in half, keeping half for himself and half for the poor man. The story goes that the next night when he was sleeping, he dreamt he saw Jesus who was wearing the other half of the cloak “I gave that the the homeless man” said Sint Maarten, to which Jesus replied that anything that you give to the poor, you give to me.
So the practice of going door to door is recreating the opportunity to give and receive. Carrying lanterns is to bring light to those who give. I asked my Dutch father and mother in law if they participated in Sint Maarten when they were younger – which they did. My father in law in particular, who came from a poor background, remembers collecting a sack of food from the more well off local families. I like having a festival based on sharing – even if there is a lot of sugar involved these days! We’ll be making sure to share this story with the girls as they grow so they understand the true meaning. Have you ever celebrated Sint Maarten?