As an expat from outside the EU, holiday celebrations can look quite different in The Netherlands.  

So, if you were missing the sight of trick-or-treaters during Halloween, now might be your chance to experience a Dutch spin on the custom.  

Coming up on November 11th is St. Martin’s Day (Sint Maarten). On this day, in parts of The Netherlands, Dutch children with lanterns knock on doors and sing songs in exchange for sweets.  

What is St. Martin’s Day?

Historically, the holiday originated with the Catholic Church in France and was meant to celebrate the life and name day of Saint Martin of Tours.   

Remembered for splitting his cloak in two to aide a freezing beggar, the day honoring the saint generally involved a mass and feast.   

However, now the holiday has shed most of its religious roots and is no longer as popular. Nevertheless, in provinces throughout The Netherlands, children and families keep the tradition alive.  

Celebrating St. Martin’s Day

Whether you have just moved to The Netherlands for school or work, getting to join in on local traditions and celebrations can help immerse you into Dutch culture.  

For St. Martin’s Day you can witness children with lanterns and singing songs, attend a parade, or join the bonfires marking the start of the holiday.  

Join a Bonfire

Happening on Friday, November 4th and on Saturday, November 5th in Utrecht, there will be two bonfires in honor of St. Martin.    

Grab a warm drink and watch “2 Fires of Sint Maarten” in Berlinplein on Friday and Overvecht on Saturday.  

Last year, a wood statue was put together to mark the celebration. Over 1.500 people gathered and lit the statue. The celebration continued with light art, music, song, dance, food and performances around the enormous fire. 

St. Martin’s Day Parade

This year you can join in on the St. Martin’s Day festivities at the St. Martin Parade in Utrecht on November 10th 

The procession runs through the centre of Utrecht and on the canals. Everyone in the parade (open for all to join) carry lights to shine as they walk with fellow participants.  

Named “Parade Boven Water” for 2023, the parade will have choirs, orchestras, and theatrical acts for everyone’s enjoyment. Moreover, you will get to see unique paper lanterns crafted specifically for the parade.  

The parade, which start at 6:00PM from Park Lepelenburg, will travel along the Singel and the Oudegracht to the Domplein. Learn more about the parade route, addresses, and the official program here 

According to members of the Social Arts Society that coordinate the annual parade, this year you can expect “a sparkling festival of large and smaller lights, the parade procession runs through the centre of Utrecht and everyone is welcome.” 

Enjoy the Trick-or-Treaters

On November 11th, children go door to door performing songs with lit paper lanterns in exchange for a sweet.

Traditionally, children would sing religious songs related to St. Martin. Presently, children make up their own songs to perform, or take traditional songs and revamp them with funny lyrics.  

As a reward, children get treats in the form of candy, cakes, or fruit. Although not as popular in major expat cities, in Utrecht you will see trick-or-treaters.

Accordingly, if you are living in an area where Sint Maarten is celebrated, consider having candies at home. Kids will start ringing doorbells between 7pm – 9pm singing tunes such as “st maarten, st maarten…de koeien hebben staarten. 

If you choose not to participate or have no candies at home, then it’s best to keep the lights off.  

Celebrate, Watch, Discover an Expat City

With a week of activities in honor of Sint Maarten around Utrecht, this can also be a fun time to discover a historical and expat-friendly city.  

Additionally, as holiday season grows closer, here at All About Expats we will be updating our LinkedIn with forthcoming Dutch holidays and expat-related events. We hope this helps spread the holiday cheer for those far from home.  

Therefore (if you haven’t already) follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date on expat-friendly holidays, events, and key information as you navigate life in The Netherlands.