While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, tapping at my chamber door
Today is November 11, one of the most important days of the year for children in the North of the Netherlands: St Maarten’s day! Children go out as soon as it gets dark with lanterns, knocking at the door. They then sing a short, often humorous, song, and the intention is that those who open the door give the singing children a treat (normally sweets).
In the Netherlands, the celebration of Sint Maarten only occurs in certain parts of the country, though in recent years this trend has softened. Nowadays, the relationship between the children and organised religion is not quite as strong, and the Sint-maartensfeest is celebrated by children of all denominations.
In many songs hardly any attention is paid to a religious background. The songs often have a humorous character and the repertoire is supplemented every year with parodic or satirical texts.
The tradition does not seem to live equally strong in every region; in Limburg, Noord-Holland in West-Friesland and Groningen it was established in 1997. At the time, the celebration of St Martin in these provinces was still fairly sparse.
In the provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Noord-Brabant, an increase in celebrations appears to have been observed in recent years.
Saint Martin’s day is celebrated across the world. It is a nominally Catholic celebration, though it has gained large numbers of local traditions, that supplement its religious character. The story has it that St Martin (of Tours) was a Roman soldier, who cut his cloak in half to share with a freezing beggar. Later than evening, the soldier had a vision of the beggar as Jesus, causing him to turn to the nascent Catholic church.
In Western European Catholicism, the ’40 days of St Martin’ were considered a fasting period before Advent, starting the day after St Martin’s day.