Sinterklaas arrives this weekend in the Netherlands!
This Sunday Sinterklaas will arrive!
The celebration of Sinterklaas is as Dutch as cheese, windmills and clogs. Where the Americans have Santa Claus, we have Sinterklaas. In the beginning of November, the old bearded man in the red costume comes to The Netherlands by boat on his white horse and with his helpers: Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes.
Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet live in Spain and they come once a year to reward good kids with gifts. Once a week Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney (mine had the keys of the backdoor, because we didn’t have a chimney) and he leaves little gifts and candy in children’s shoes.
On the 5th of December; the birthday of Sinterklaas, the big party starts. Usually Sinterklaas (your uncle Jan) and Zwarte Piet (your niece Sara) come over and drop off a huge pile of gifts, accompanied by poems for every child. Sinterklaas will check his big red book if the kids were good or bad this year, and depending on this, they will receive presents. During the evening kids are allowed to eat as many ‘pepernoten’ and ‘Speculaas’ (delicious Dutch treats) as they want. For Dutch children this is the event of the year.
A couple of years ago, a group of people started to resent the story wherein a white guy was bossing black people around. Black Pete seemed more and more similar to the racist stereotype of someone from Suriname: stupid and submissive. Also they say, there is a good chance that the tradition goes back to slavery and we shouldn’t cheer this on. They show that other countries are appalled by the parade of a white Christian man on a white horse and his black slaves… Because that’s what it looks like.
So, the Black Pete discussion has been dominating the celebration and the media every year.
If you look at the history of Sinterklaas, there is a good chance that Black Pete indeed was a slave. In the middle ages it was normal to return to your home country after a crusade with some black slaves. Also in the vague biography of Saint Nicolas it could be he bought black slaves from Ethiopia. The alternative is not that much better. Black Pete could also originally be the face of the devil. Saint Nicolas defeated the devil and now has him as his servant…
I’d like to believe that Black Pete is just black because of all the dirty chimneys he must climb in. That’s the most friendly explanation by far!
After years of discussion, this year, for the first time in history, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will arrive in Amsterdam, but the Zwarte Pieten will not be entirely black: they will look like they just came out of the chimney, with soot everywhere! The government of Amsterdam thinks this is a good compromise, not completely abandoning the tradition, but also paying respect to the hurt feelings of people who associate Zwarte Piet with racism.
But still there are a lot of little towns in the Netherlands where Zwarte Piet is still very black…
This Saturday the boat of Sinterklaas and Piet will be in the Amstel river between 10.30 and 11.30! http://www.sintinamsterdam.nl/over-de-intocht/#
Read more about the other events going on this month here!