As children and their families make last minute preparations on Christmas Eve in anticipation of the next day’s festivities, a few hundred children in The Netherlands will be gathering at the war cemeteries to place candles at the graves of more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers.
Originally tracing its roots to Finland, the tradition has become widespread in the Netherlands, and it is expected that thousands will be involved in placing candles.
More specifically, an event will be held in the evening at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, which consists of 1,394 graves. For the first time this year, approximately 100 school children and more than 500 parents will also be gathering at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek to place candles on 2,617 graves.
“More and more cemeteries are placing candles at the graves in the community. I am very honoured and proud to be part of this committee in Groesbeek to organize this event,” said Gerard Hendriks, President of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005 “The Liberation of The Netherlands.”
The objectives of this annual ceremony is to keep the memory of the Second World War alive and to “Never to forget the sacrifices these brave men made. To bring the light and the warmth to them as we do with our loved ones at Christmas time,” explained Hendriks.
Twenty-five years ago a Finnish woman named Leena van Dam brought the tradition, which originally entailed the people of Finland placed candles at the graves of loved ones, to the Netherlands with her to remember fallen soldiers. She introduced it at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery.
Since then the tradition has carried on with a large participation from school-aged children.
“It is very important to give this knowledge and feelings to our children. In a few years, there will be no liberators anymore. But we need to keep the memory alive and to tell our children. We will never forget what these men meant to us. And we will pass it on to the children,” added Hendriks.
In Oct. 2015, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005, based out of the Netherlands, made an announcement on social media about their mission to burn candles at every cemetery where fallen soldiers were buried.
According to Hendriks, after this announcement, 110 communities and cities in the Netherlands participated and placed candles at graves.
The overall goal is to have candles burning at the grave of each of the 19,2000 graves of allied soldiers by the year 2019/2020.
“People in the Netherlands won’t forget these soldiers brought freedom. The people suffered for more than five years. There has been and still is always a special bond between Canadian and Dutch people. More than 80 per cent of our country was liberated by Canadians. The people in the Netherlands are getting together at this Christmas days. A bit of that feeling we want to bring to these young men in their graves to let them know we won’t forget you even at these special days when families get together. We feel like family with these men and represent their families who are so far away,” stated Hendriks.
Photo credit; Robert Allen