We’ve been avid Sint Maarten go’ers since our first Winter here in Amsterdam even if we didn’t quite know what we were doing as we ambled around in the rain clutching warm cups of gluhwein. Sint Maarten has been described as the Dutch Hallowe’en by expats who seem to feel the need to relate everything to their own BN (before Netherlands) experience—myself included! But it’s not. It’s simply a Dutch tradition that has been going on here since the early part of the 1900s. And it’s way cuter, meaningful and really very sweet.
There’s no commercialisation and no scary costumes—in fact no costumes at all which hugely appeals to the slacker mum buried not so deep inside me—and is very neighbourhood oriented, much like the Halloween of my own 1970s childhood. Back then I’m sure our costumes of black bags and home-made face masks fooled nobody. It’s quite unlike the organised Hallowe’en family event in Amsterdam which occurs in a very small district of the city and is planned to within an inch of it’s life. Hallowe’en is not a Dutch thing therefore somebody has to make it happen. Spontaneity, surprise and familiarity is the loser here which makes Sint Maarten a clear winner in my eyes. It’s not an either/or though as my sugar-crazed 10 year old will tell me as she pockets yet more sweet stuff of which dreams are made. ‘Why not both, mum!? Why are you saying next year, no Hallowe’en? It’s fun! Remember what that was like!?’ So we do both…condemned if you will to dodge the rain and howling wind much like Saint Martin himself back in the day.
Okay, so Sint Maarten is a bit like regular Hallowe’en with the knocking on doors and receiving sweets. But that’s where the resemblance ends: there is no dressing up, only carrying paper lanterns with little lights inside and singing special songs when your neighbours’ doors open. It’s in honour of Saint Martin, originally Martinus, a Roman soldier who was on his way to France then shared half his cape with a beggar and became a monk ( according to my eldest kid years back when I sought an explanation ). That’s about it and my kids love it. Over the years, they’ve had a lot of fun running round with their friends and saying hi to friendly neighbours.
Kids take only one sweet each from the bowl or basket (dutchies are usually very strict on that ). However, something was afoot last night as practically everyone told the kids to take two sweets. Highly unusual behaviour and perhaps their sympathy was picqued as we were all soaked through with paper lantern disintegration properly underway. Sint Maarten is for primary school kids, and parents or older siblings walk around with the younger ones. I stayed home last year and loved seeing all the kids coming to our door singing their little hearts out. It’s very cute and heart-warming. Last night I went out and almost cried when I saw my little four year old singing Elf November quietly to the people who opened their doors on our streets. And he included a little sideways jig for one old man who chuckled away at the sight of him. They are so delighted to see the kids—it’s very touching and makes braving the rain so worthwhile. And boy did it rain last night!
Each year without fail my kids get toothbrushes from the retired dentist in our neighbourhood. Last night he placed a toothbrush across the doorframe presumably to lay the groundwork for what was coming. Then he opened the door with a huge bowl of colourful toothbrushes to the loud laughs of us parents. It’s one of my favourite Sint Maarten moments every year. Brushes were chosen and then they were given two more for Mammy and Daddy. He’s got a funny sense of humour that guy.