The cows have tails…and here comes Saint Martin!

We have a huge bag of sweets to get through in the kitchen. Mostly brightly coloured wrapped jelly sweets, mini milkyways, chocolate coins and various tubes of licorice. This is not normal in our house. They have been here for two weeks now and even though I am waiving the standard sugar protocol and allowing A a daily dose after dinner it doesn’t look like we’ll have seen the back of them for some time yet.

11th November is Saint Martin’s day (Sint Maarten). Young kids make paper lanterns which are lit with mini torch lights inside. They then learn a bunch of Sint Maarten themed songs and go out into the street. They form clusters of excited glowing little nippers, wrapped in hats and scarves against the Dutch winter weather they wave their lanterns and sing at the doors of their neighbours. These neighbours in turn have to produce bowls and baskets of sweets, or mandarins of course, if you’re lucky! The kids then skip off to the next door and so on and so on. It is all good clean fun apart from the inevitable years supply of sugar that it produces. I am out with the two kids and a friend from school. S, who is about to turn two is a bit young to sing, but he soon picks up the thread and follows the girls along, grabbing mini mars bars after they’ve sung their best renditions. He’s caught on to the sweet currency a lot quicker than I’d expected and he’s skipping along the pavement intoxicated with excitement. At every door we’re greeted by a slightly bemused smile and everyone says,

“Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard that song tonight!”

I should explain that at the Steiner school they learn the absolute most ancient songs possible, songs that have long been forgotten.

I must say that the most common Sint Maarten song is not all that inspiring if you’ve just heard it 20 times in a row,

“Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten, the cows have tails, the girls are wearing skirts and here comes Sint Maarten!”

Our girls are singing:

“Martin had a pair of scissors that wouldn’t cut, Matin had a knife that wouldn’t slice, Matin had a rope that wouldn’t tie. A Sword. A Sword. And let me walk on!”

I’m not sure which is more abstract, but I’m proud of myself that I’ve become soooo Dutch that I know the words to traditional songs that not even the local grannies have heard of!

The Steiner school has as usual gone back to basics and we parents have been hollowing out carrots (!) to carry as lanterns, a bit too far down the old nature and creation route these have not been a great success, the carrots have started to brown and to wilt, so we are carrying the back up paper lanterns as well. S is wielding a giant butterfly that I fashioned out of card and tissue last year. In this instance I’d say my lack of ability in the clearing up department has paid off since I still have the extra lanterns from previous years to liven things up even more.

Ok, so I’m prepared to skip the Halloween trick or treat and pass down this softie non-ghoulish version. Sint Maarten has a sort of whimsical innocence about it, lighting up the streets on a cold November night, meeting the neighbours and sharing a bit of sugar-coated fun. Today I don’t mind having emigrated. I may not have my own nostalgia about it, but I can see the charm. I don’t feel this way about every new tradition I have to pass along. SinterKlaas is next on the calendar and that definitely has some dodgy elements (read my article on Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet here.)

A has an enormous bag of swag, she is beaming with delight. She is allowed to open a couple. S has heard the word ‘chocolate’ so he keeps repeating it expectantly, but as I unwrap things to try he is confused by the squishy slimy feel of all the sweets and I’m pleased to say he’s not all that keen.

It’s the following weekend when A finally gets to unwrap the one and only lollypop. It is a big deal to her it appears and when she asks if she can have it for about the 15th time, I say ok.

She plops it in her mouth and makes cooing mmmm and aaaah sounds.

Later I’m in the kitchen chatting with P while we load the dishwasher. I glance over and catch sight of A. I nudge P and we both stop to watch her. She is admiring herself in the reflection in the oven door. Lolly in hand she is looking at herself from all angles. She puts the lolly in and out of her mouth and then looks at her reflection again and again.

Wow. Sint Maarten has done his job well this year for sure. This is one holy lollypop.


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