The lanterns are lit. Children are skipping through laneways and streets, singing at strangers’ doorsteps in the night. With a little luck, their performance will result in a grab at that tantalising tray of chocolates… Halloween, right? Wrong. Welcome to Holland in November. Welcome to Sint Maarten’s Day.
Before we left Europe this year, we zipped across from Berlin to see a gorgeous Darwin friend of mine and her tall Dutch family in Holland. It was here in the coastal village of Haarlem that we soaked up a week of Dutch magic, dining in with friends, riding bikes along the canals and singing in the streets for Sint Maarten.
Sint (Saint) Maarten’s day is celebrated by the Dutch on the evening of the 11th of November. As the Autumn daylight dissapears, kids and light up their hand-crafted lanterns and step out into the chilly streets, knocking on neighbourhood doors to sing the song of St Maarten’s. These days they are hoping for candy. In the past it was the farms that people visited: the poor hoping for a good stock of food to get them through the winter.
St Maarten sounded like a pretty nice bloke. He was a Roman soldier who became a monk, and one evening while he was traveling around he came across a beggar who was freezing. Overcome with empathy, he cut off half his cloak and gave it to the beggar to warm him up. The rest is history and apparently that’s how nice guys become saints!
I’m not sure the history (or story) is as highly regarded as the candy these days… but that’s the case with most religious celebrations now: Merry Christmas, shoppers! Nonetheless, while it was pretty reminiscent of Halloween, it was new for me, and this highly regarded Dutch tradition was delightful. Finn and I joined Mia’s two beautiful daughters and we walked with them through the laneways of Haarlem. Their excitement was palpable. We giggled. We sang. We collected sweets. And the smiles on the faces of people in their windows and doorways warmed up my heart, even on such a chilly night!
We loved our last week in Europe and I recommend Haarlem over Amsterdam for anyone heading to the Netherlands soon. This seaside village is lined with canals like its booming big sister, Amsterdam. The ornamented façades of its buildings reveal funky bars within and the town centre lights up with action most nights of the week. However, Haarlem retains a delicate romance about it that may have since evaporated in a cloud of smoke for Amsterdam.
We loved our train trips into the big A and we made the most of museums, rooftop bars, the wild street life as well as the animals at the zoo. However, the christmas lights that sparkled in Haarlem’s streets, the family-friendly cafes and the aromatic farmer’s markets on Mia’s doorstep made this quaint little place the perfect spot to round off a European tour.