Locals and vacationers alike will celebrate the 50th anniversary of 'St. Maarten Day' on Nov. 11, 2009. This year's event, themed "Express Gratitude To Our Forefathers," is packed with traditions, activities, parades and festivities all designed to unite the country as one island, one people, and one destiny. The date - Nov. 11 - was chosen because it is said that Christopher Columbus had seen the island on that date, naming it after the patron saint of the day, St. Martin, according to the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau.

St. Maarten Day is a special day for us as it is a day to remember our heritage. It was this day that our island was born and we come together to celebrate and unite with one another to keep the spirit alive," said Frans George Richardson, Commissioner of Tourism, Dutch St. Maarten.

Citizens of St. Maarten gather early in the morning as festivities kick off with a number of sporting activities, such as relay races, fishing and kite-flying at dawn. A church service is held later in the morning followed by the traditional wreath-laying where government officials and civic leaders meet at a border point, followed by the hoisting of the flags and singing "Oh Sweet St. Martin Land," the island's anthem.

Afternoon festivities are highlighted by two parades. A uniformed group will walk through Philipsburg and head to Festival Village on Pond Island where dignitaries will give an official address followed by a luncheon. Following the luncheon a cultural parade will begin with ethnic associations displaying their cultural garb along with the Soualiga Kids Foundation and 750 elementary school children wearing costumes to depict local heritage.

"It is wonderful to see everyone come together, especially having the children involved. This is a festival where they can participate and truly be part of the celebration," said Regina Labega, Director of Tourism, Dutch St. Maarten.

Throughout the day, the Festival Village will play home to vendors and entertainment where people mingle and celebrate. Young children will enjoy an inflatable castle, trampolines and slides in a designated playground area.