Suddenly, geese by the lake begin to cackle. You look down at the pavement and see the distant sparkle of lanterns, which grows bigger and brighter. House lights are swiftly doused. The doorbell rings. Figures crowd the doorway. ‘Halloween’s over! Vervelende kinderen!’ you whimper. What the fable is happening?
It’s Sint Maarten’s Day! Which is essentially Holland’s Halloween, but twice as terrifying (for inexperienced internationals). Hoards of children cloaked in rags descend upon the streets armed with lanterns, probing for food in return for friendship. They sing and dance as if they’d just been released from Bomburst’s castle, and I was Bomburst: dangling helplessly above the children, screaming ‘call the cavalry! Call the cavalry, Pumpkin!’ Although the Dutch festivity is no ‘bleed a cockerel then spread its blood around the house’ St. Martin’s festivity like in Ireland (what better way to celebrate food than to rub it onto the walls?), it’s nice for the children.
The tradition sprouts from a festivity of feasting, and is celebrated all over the world on 11/11. The same day as painter Cornelis van Haarlem died in 1638. Coincidence? I think so. ‘Give me a pear, and you won’t see me again all year’ the children sing. Well, not until next month when you pelt me with kruidnoten during Sinterklaas, I say. Not for a year after that, though… they promised.
Legend has it that Maarten cut his cloak in half to share with a near-frozen beggar during a storm: where the children are the beggars, we are the Sint Maartens. So when your doorbell goes for the hundredth time next Monday, and you stand at the door with sweets in one hand and a bludgeon in the other, ask yourself: what would Sint Maarten do?
Also, bludgeoning people is illegal in the Netherlands…