So there’s even more to the Santa story

Folks, I’m just learning about Santa and his sidekick, Pete. Omg! You familiar? What manner of foolishness is this?? Or am I missing something? 4 real. Talk to me folks! Apparently this is a huge Dutch Christmas tradition.   Article entitled “Black Pete the Slave: Race, Power & Identity”   Story on Zwarte Piet: Blackface in the Caribbean  Article about  Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet   A woman writes about her experiences in Holland   A film about Santa & Pete    Video on the subject

Looks like I need to have a few conversations with some folks. That is, people who are AWAKE. Know any folks from the Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles etc? I don’t.



2 thoughts on “So there’s even more to the Santa story

  1. Hi, I’m a 31 year old white Dutch girl. I have to admit that this year for the first time I have felt the strong repulsiveness that an outsider probably feels at first sight. Maybe my story can help understand why it is so difficult to get the blackface slavery elements out of this tradition.
    It has taken me years to go from the full love and enthusiasm for this tradition to question it and now to oppose it. Recently I befriended some people who are in the core of the Zwarte Pieten-resistance in The Netherlands. Even though I have been quite active about the topic on the internet this year, I dont know what my best friends think of Zwarte Piet. It feels a bit like a taboo. When I was asked this year to dress up as a Zwarte Piet for a befriended family, I had a hard time to put the offer down and it was very sensitive to explain the reasons why. It makes me the crazy one here.
    Maybe let’s start with what’s so special about the Sinterklaas period. This tradition is a very creative celebration. Not only it comes with the usual family gatherings, presents and cosiness, but also creative stories are being made. Most presents are accompanied by a self written poem about the personality of the receiver or why Sinterklaas & Piet think this person should get this present. Reflections are being made on the actions of people and presents are hidden in self made crafts work that supports the story written in the poem about the relationship between the present and the person. Often the poems are slightly teasing, but mostly witty, reflective and humorous. Those are the reasons that I love this celebration more than any other.
    Now the blackface. When we grow up, we indeed love Zwarte Piet. He is funny, gives presents, candy and is down right exciting. Sinterklaas is a more boring figure, but around the adventures of Zwarte Piet all the good stpories are being made. I am not sure if, as a kid, I ever thought Zwarte Piet was a resemblance of African ethnicity (this is the excuse many people use against it being racist). Zwarte Piet is seen as a character that is unrelated to reality and world history, more like a fairy tale figure. Next to that, Dutch people are always said to be open, tolerant etc… I think this no more is the case and it has become a false identity that Dutch people proud themselves with. This false identity jeopardizes the need to question themselves though. “Zwarte Piet racist? That cant be true, because I’m not a racist , I’m an open, tolerant person , I love different cultures, I don’t see Zwarte Piet as an African resemblance”. They bypass the fact that all the characteristics of Zwarte Piet come from slavery times. Therefore this discussion might have become such a taboo as well. Not only are people afraid to loose this mythical figure that brought them happy times for all their lives, but also they feel themselves attacked to be called a racist.
    I started questioning the tradition when I got many African friends that were temporarily living in the Netherlands. First I laughed off the “acccusations” of racist elements, but it didn’t take long to have to take a step back and look at it with objective eyes. There was no way to justify the obvious characteristics of black face and slavery page cloth. I am afraid though it will be difficult to find a way to open the eyes of the Dutch people and get through the thick defensive layer of emotional attachment.
    What I wish for now, is that Sinterklaas can be celebrated together with his helpers, but that the blackface characteristics are changed. Let there be a more creactive way of doing makeup (makeup is necessary because the kids shouldnt be able to recognize their neighbour or aunt in the Piet). But I am very sure that the skin color be changed into all kind of colors and the hairstyle can be whatever wig is available. Let the Piets just be as diverse as human beings are.

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