On the War Memorial Trail ….. Candlelight Service At Holten Canadian War Cemetery

January 25, 2018.  When we visited the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands and the Information Centre at Holten Canadian War Cemetery, we brought along flag pins, provided by Senator Mike Duffy of the Senate of Canada, to give to the schoolchildren who participate in the candlelight service at the Canadian war cemeteries on Christmas Eve.

So we were delighted that Edwin van der Wolf, one of the volunteers at Holten Canadian War Cemetery, shared photos of the 2017 Christmas Eve Ceremony.


Edwin van der Wolf with schoolchildren from the town of Deventer, who are wearing Canadian flag pins, at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of E. van der Wolf)

The candlelight ceremony began in 1991, with the participation of schoolchildren from the nearby town of Deventer, birthplace of Canada’s first Surveyor-General, Samuel Holland.  They light candles and place them on each grave in the cemetery at dusk.


Schoolchild places candle at one of the graves at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Math Willems)

Originally, the candlelight service began in Scandinavia by Mrs. Leena van Dam, who was born in Finland and wanted to show how grateful she was to live in a free country.  In Finland, it is traditional to place a burning candle on the graves of loved ones. Finnish candles can burn for ten hours and remain lit in all weather conditions, whether rain, wind, or snow.  Initially, Mrs. van Dam donated a five year supply of candles.  The Welcome Again Veterans Foundation, through the help of sponsors and donations, has continued funding the candles.

Close to 300 school children participate in this ceremony, which begins at 4:30 pm on Christmas Eve. Canadian and Dutch traditions are mixed as bagpipes are played and a Dutch horn is blown.


Bagpipers during the ceremony at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Math Willems)


The haunting sound of a Dutch horn is played during the ceremony. (Photo credit: Math Willems)

All evening, thousands of people from the area visit the cemetery and show their respects.  This candlelight ceremony is one of the many ways that the Dutch people remember the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers during WWII.


Candles at each grave at Holten Canadian War Cemetery on Christmas Eve. (Photo credit: Math Willems)

When we visited Holten Canadian War Cemetery our guide, Edwin van der Wolf, explained why he was a volunteer.  He told us that his grandfather lived in an area of Deventer that had been liberated by Canadian soldiers, and told his children and grandchildren the same story every Sunday.  Grandfather lived in a corner house on a street where he could see a hospital fence 100 metres away.  German soldiers were lying on the hospital roof and firing at Canadian soldiers as they climbed over the gate.  Some successfully climbed over the iron gate and were able to get in a crouching position and go past the line of fire.  As more Canadians advanced, the Germans retreated.

Hearing this story every week captured Edwin’s imagination.  The story, plus the fact that so many Canadians came from so far away to help liberate the Dutch made him feel a special bond with Canada.

Have you visited Holten Canadian War Cemetery and its Information Centre?  Have you seen one of the candlelight ceremonies?  You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

5 thoughts on “On the War Memorial Trail ….. Candlelight Service At Holten Canadian War Cemetery

  1. Hello Daria,

    Thank you for your nice and interesting story about our ceremony wih the candles.

    One thing the school children who do this are always from the schools from Holten and not from Deventer.




  2. Pingback: 2022 Christmas Eve Candle Lighting In The Netherlands | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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