Happy Sinterklaas

Monday, 6 December 2010

It’s Christmas Day today in Belgium, known locally as Sinterklaas. You might already think the country is quirky at times. Today’s celebrations probably confirm this.

Blacking up all over Belgium and Holland

Why? Well the Belgian Father Christmas, Saint Claus (aka Santa Claus) has a sidekick. Who is called Zwarte Piet or Black Peter. And I’m not talking about Peter Van Petegem, the rider nicknamed “the blackman of Brakel”. It’s a jaw-dropping example of racism.

I realise this is not the normal terrain of The Inner Ring so I won’t say too much on this, it’s an old tradition that continues today. Essentially the story goes that Piet is Santa’s little slave and if children behave badly then the black man will put them in his bag and kidnap them. Read more on Wikipedia, for the full story. More positively lots of well behaved Belgian kids today are getting bags of nuts, tangerines and small gifts.

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{ 11 comments }

BS December 6, 2010 at 9:33 am

The celebration isn't racist. Zwarte Piet is a white man who happens to be black because he enters the homes through the chimneys to drop of the presents for the children. His skin is black because of the carbon black in the chimney.
That's why we never pick a black person for the role of Zwarte Piet.

TheInnerRing December 6, 2010 at 9:42 am

BS, yes I think that's the story today. But the history suggests it is linked to something else. But as you say, the modern story is less controversial.

BS December 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

By defending Sinterklaas I proved myself a good boy and made sure I'll get my presens today. A Leopard Racing jersey maybe?

Anonymous December 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

BS: May your wish come true…

Same in the Netherlands, too. Only garnished with cheap techno versions of Christmas carols.

TheInnerRing December 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm

BS: it'll be a Craft jersey then.

Champs December 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm

The pepernoten make it a racially insensitive holiday tradition everyone can enjoy.

Anonymous December 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Yes it has the bad history. Although for kids it is just fun, this is their day.

Paul December 6, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I remember a while back, there was talk of changing the Union Jack flag because it was supposedly steeped in racist history. Now, it may or may not have a racist past, but the point is that the Union Jack, to the everyday man on the street, is simply the flag of the United Kingdom.

I imagine it's the same here. Zwarte Piet may or may not have a dubious history, but is that what it means today for the lay person.

Anonymous December 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Just come and see for yourself in Holland someday next year when Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet visit a local primary school or community center. It's just good family fun, nothing racist in there.
You might as well argue that Thanksgiving is insulting to native Americans and therefore should be abolished.

TheInnerRing December 7, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Hi Anon, I've spent Christmas in Amsterdam, I used to live there. Yes it is fun but it is not without controversy even within Holland. I'm not looking to make a big deal out of it, just to show a Dutch/Belgian tradition!

Nicholas December 9, 2010 at 1:44 am

Sinterklaas or Santa Klaus are versions of Saint Nicholas' name. Dec 6th is St Nicholas' official (Church) holiday and that's why all the celebration. I don't think anybody actually believes it's Christmas.

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