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Holten Canadian War Cemetery, The Netherlands

The Christmas Eve Ceremony

Every Christmas Eve school children from the nearby town of Deventer, light candles and places them on each grave in the cemetery at nightfall. This was a project started in 1991. The custom originated from Scandinavia and was adopted by the school as a private initiative, with no government organization, assistance or funding behind the event.

Mrs. Leena van Dam conceived the candle ceremony as a way of expressing gratitude for living in a free country. Mrs. van Dam was born in Finland where the tradition is to place a burning candle on the graves of loved ones. The candles from Finland are noted for their ability to burn for ten hours and to remain lit even in rain, wind and snow.

Mrs. van Dam supplied enough candles for five years and the Welcome Again Veterans Foundation, through sponsors and donations to pay for costs, has undertaken to supply candles for the future.

Approximately 300 school children participate in this ceremony, which begins at 1630 hours on Christmas Eve. Both Canadian and Dutch traditions are mixed as bagpipes are played and a Dutch horn (with an eerie sound) is blown. Throughout the evening thousands of people from the region visit the Canadian War Cemetery for a moment of silence in the yellow glow of the candlelight.

For more information contact Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005, Lochem, NL,


The Canadian War Cemetery in Holten is situated in the eastern part of the Netherlands in the Province of Overijssel.

The 1,394 Servicemen who are buried in this cemetery were nearly all killed in the last stages of the war during the advance of the Canadian 2nd Corps into northern Germany.

Until autumn 1945 one could find crosses scattered all over the country in the Netherlands, marking the place where soldiers had been killed and buried. They had given their lives to liberate a country from five years of brutal oppression.

One day while passing Holten it occurred to Lt. General G.G. Simonds, Commander of the 2nd Canadian Army, that the "Holterberg" a little hill north of Holten might be a suitable place for a Canadian War Cemetery. A burial site for the Soldiers who were killed in the spring of 1945 during the liberation of the eastern and northern part of the Netherlands. Contact was made with Mr. Dr. W.H. Enklaar, Mayor of Holten at the time. He immediately did everything possible to establish a cemetery.

Later, negotiations were carried out by the Ministry of war resulting in the grounds being given to the Canadian Government and remains Canadian territory.

The Cemetery was constructed by Canadian Soldiers awaiting their repatriation with assistance from the people of Holten. The first soldiers, who were buried in the cemetery, were Canadians killed in the area of Holten. There graves can be found in the first plot, left of the entrance.

Buried there are: 1,355 Canadians, 36 from the United Kingdom, 2 Australia and 1 Belgium.

The Annual Commemorative Services

Each year on the anniversary of the Liberation of Holland (May 4th) and on Christmas Eve, special commemorative services are held at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. The children of Holten play a central role in these services. It is hoped that the youth will learn this lesson; war must be prevented, freedom is not to be taken for granted and every effort must be made to maintain peace and democracy.

It is difficult for children who has not experienced war to understand what it means for their country to be occupied, what it is to live in terror or the horror of a concentration camp. The soldiers who are buried in Holten gave their lives for our freedom, that we can now live peacefully in a democratic society. By telling and retelling the story, we pay respect to those who gave their lives and hope that the children (the responsible adults of the next generation) will keep the light of freedom burning.

A quote from the speech of Mr. D.J. Verhoeven Mayor of Holten, Ceremony 1995:

Among the rustling pines of the Holterberg lies the cemetery quietly with its graves. Graves of men who gave their lives for our freedom.

"We, the people of Holten, don't know their faces, only read their names on the stones ... Nevertheless, they are no strangers to us. They belong to us. They were and are our comrades"

By tending the graves and the yearly services on May 4th and the Candle event on Christmas Eve we always will remember them .......


No part of Western Europe was liberated at a more vital moment than the Netherlands. The people had almost reached the end of their endurance from the misery and starvation, which had accompanied the "Hunger Winter". Food supplies in the cities were exhausted, fuel had run out almost entirely, and transport was virtually non-existent. Thousands of men, women and children had perished. Therefore, the Canadian soldiers who contributed so immensely to that liberation were cheered and greeted with great joy.

To this day the people of the Netherlands show great respect toward Canadians and in particular to those Canadians who paid the supreme sacrifice and are laid to rest in the cemeteries throughout the Netherlands. It is through projects like this the elders are able to pass on to the young people of the Netherlands the true meaning of the sacrifice made by these young men of war in their quest for peace and freedom which the people of the Netherlands enjoy today

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