07 November, 2012

The Silly Season has begun

In Australia we are lucky that we don't really have to worry about the Silly Season until some time in December.  Well, it does get a bit silly around the second Tuesday in November with the Melbourne Cup, but it tends to die down again for a month or so before the onslaught of Christmas parties and catching up with friends and the ritual scoffing of crayfish and champagne begins.

In the Netherlands the Silly Season is kicking off this week with the celebration of Sint Maarten (Saint Martin).  I could mention Halloween, but it's not really celebrated here.  The tradition is slowly infiltrating society with more parties and calls for "trick or treating;" especially in expat circles, but I myself am resistant to celebrating Halloween.  Although it is not a wholly American tradition, I still see it as being yet another way the world is being americanised (along with those stupid yo bro handshakes and half-arsed man hugs) and it grates on my nerves.  

But I digress.  Where was I?  Right.  Sint Maarten's day.

In the Netherlands there is a wonderful tradition where children make lanterns and walk through the streets singing songs and are rewarded with sweets.  Well, that’s how the tradition is intended, but in reality happens (in my neighbourhood, anyway) is that kids knock on doors and sing songs for sweets.  

When I first moved here I thought it was tedious, but now I open my eyes and actually see the joy in the kids faces (at getting lollies) and how proud the parents are of their little ones.  I has become one of my favourite traditions and I have to make sure we have plenty of sweeties to give away.  It’s always a bit of a let-down when you realise that it’s all over and there have only been four groups of children to the door.

This year we have the added bonus of Raina, who can answer the door with us and be involved.  Too bad it’s still too early to go singing songs with her and earn me her some lollies.

What I have realised though is that I am completely clueless as to the origin of the festival and none of my friends seem to know either. Even researchers seem to draw a blank when it comes to a definitive origin.

Martinmas was celebrated as something of a season changer, a harvest celebration.  All the preparations for winter are finished so it's time for a feast.  In the middle ages (and earlier), the celebration marked the beginning of what evolved into Advent; forty days of fasting. A final fling, so to speak.

It seems (but don’t quote me!) that the tradition in the Netherlands evolved as a festival for the poor, begging for food for the winter and it gained momentum during the 20th century and has been embraced as a festival with no particular religious basis (other than the name).

In some parts of North Holland the festival is celebrated with the parade and lanterns and song singing, in parts of the south of the Netherlands it’s celebrated with a bonfire, and in other parts of the south the festival is not celebrated at all (perhaps they’re too busy with the kickoff of the carnaval season).

It never ceases to amaze me how such a small country can be so diverse.  In Australia the whole country celebrates holidays together without much deviation from the middle line.  Australia Day is a sausage sizzle and cricket.  Anzac Day is the dawn service and Two-Up.  Easter is chocolate and the occasional trip to church.  Nobody cares about the Queen’s Birthday and everyone loves Labour Day (free day off).  Melbourne Cup Day is sweepstakes, feathery hats and champagne, and Christmas Day is about family (either celebrating or avoiding). Then, New Year is a giant slurp-up.  There are no divisions between how we celebrate state to state, even though the distances are that much further.  I feel like I have more in common with the average North Queenslander than a person from north Holland has with someone from south Limburg...

I put the call out on Facebook to my Dutch friends and family asking what Sint Maarten means to them and some of the replies were fabulous!  From “Its getting together with family and friends!” to  “It's that day I lock my door, close my windows, turn off all the lights and watch youtube video's under a blanket with a headset,” to “It's a stubborn way of saying, "We're Dutch!!! Not American!! Don't force us to celebrate Halloween!"

Overwhelmingly though, Sint Maarten is about lollies, and who doesn’t want to celebrate lollies?  So, if you stop by my house on Sunday evening at around 6pm, you’ll find me tapping my feet to silly songs and handing out candy to very happy little children.  Can’t wait!

Here's the trick to getting all those lollies!

What do you think of Sint Maarten?  Sound like good fun?

The Silly Season will continue with the Arrival of Sinterklaas (I've avoided discussing this one for YEARS), before rolling on into Christmas and Oud en Nieuw (New Year).  Stay tuned!

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