Gelderland, Netherlands – While children in most Christmas-celebrating countries
find presents under the Christmas tree, Dutch children look forward to gifts
during their Sinterklaas celebration.
is a celebration in honor of Saint Nicholas, with a lot of customs. There are
traditional songs and even special television shows for children. Sinterklaas
travels, so the story goes, from Spain to the Netherlands in a steamboat filled
December 6 is the anniversary of the death of St. Nicholas, the main celebration
is held here on Sinterklaas Eve, the evening of December 5.
starts weeks ahead of time. In November, most towns organize a parade to welcome
Sinterklaas, who rides into town on a white horse.
weeks that follow, children can put a shoe in front of the fireplace before they
go to sleep about once a week. They often put a drawing for Sinterklaas and a
carrot and hay for his horse in it.
the American Santa Claus tradition – which may have been derived from
Sinterklaas, brought to the United States by Dutch settlers – children of the
Netherlands believe that Sinterklaas has a big book that tells how each of them
behaved over the past year.
If a child
has been good, Sinterklaas will put candy or a small present in his or her shoe.
In the past, children were told they would be taken to Spain in a jute sack if
they’d been naughty, but nowadays, most parents don’t do that anymore.
Sinterklaas customs are sweet.
get together and eat traditional candy that’s associated with the Sinterklaas
celebrations, like speculaas, pepernoten (tiny round speculaas cookies)
letters made of chocolate, are very popular as well, and people usually get the
first letter of their first name.
part of the holiday – the story of Sinterklaas’ servant, Zwarte Piet, or Black
Pete – is getting some criticism.
Sinterklaas story says that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet walk over the rooftops,
and Zwarte Piet comes through the chimney to bring children their presents.
Sinterklaas time, shop windows in the Netherlands are decorated with googly-eyed
Zwarte Piet dolls.
Children's shoes left in a supermarket for Sinterklaas.e Netherlands
Carolina Nelissen/Youth Journalism International
Sinterklaas parades and visits to schools, white people who have painted their
faces black to look like Zwarte Piet hand pepernoten to the children.
everyone thinks this is just an innocent tradition.
Slaapmaat, member of the left-wing organization Doorbraak, said his group wants
to bring Zwarte Piet’s role up for discussion.
strange phenomenon,’’ he said.
said there’s a lot of colonial influence in Zwarte Piet and his role as servant
of the white Sinterklaas. He said black people are
stereotyped by the way Zwarte Piet is depicted.
the figure of Zwarte Piet with the blackface tradition of whites painting their
faces black to portray a black person, and with the Golliwog doll.
Piet doesn’t tell anything about the way black people really are, but it does
say a lot about the way white people have portrayed black people and (in the
case of Zwarte Piet) still portray in popular image culture,” his colleague Hans
Westerink said in a statement.
is a touchy subject in The Netherlands, Slaapmaat said.
"Black Pete" signs in a store in the Netherlands
Caroline Nelissen/Youth Journalism International
group wanted to organize a protest against the figure in August of 2008, many
Dutch people reacted fiercely, he said.
“We got a
lot of hatemail,” said Slaapmaat.
Houtzager of Art.1, a national association against discrimination, said they
don’t really have an opinion whether using Zwarte Piet in the Sinterklaas
celebrations is good or bad.
Houtzager noted that there is a very sad history – slavery – attached to the
Zwarte Piet tradition.
Art.1 wouldn’t want to go as far as banning it, though.
tradition is way too deep-rooted in the Netherlands for that,” Houtzager said.
group does want to make people more conscious of the history of the tradition by
spreading information, he said.
voices against the Zwarte Piet tradition, many Dutch people don’t seem to be
willing to change it.
Morren, a 17-year-old senior at the Christelijk College Nassau Veluwe in
Harderwijk, has played Zwarte Piet herself.
the tradition of Zwarte Piet has absolutely nothing to do with racism. Although
it historically comes from slavery, she said, that’s not how it’s looked upon
to Morren, children don’t even see Zwarte Piet as a black person. “Children are
told he’s black because he has come through the chimney,” she said. “When a
child noticed a white spot on my hand, I just said that my hands always clean up
is seen more as a special sort of person, Morren said, who entertains children.
“I also see
dark-skinned people who participate, so I don’t think they see it as
discrimination, either,” Morren said.
ridiculous to call it discrimination, said Morren.
call anything discrimination then,” she said. “What about Santa Claus’ elves?
Is that discrimination against midgets?”
people interviewed agreed with her and said they don’t think anything should
change about the Zwarte Piet tradition. Most even reacted a bit surprised to the
question and were stunned that the custom would be viewed as discrimination.
Sinterklaas parade, there were a lot of Zwarte Piets handing out candy to
children. Some of the children were dressed up like little Zwarte Piets
town, shops were decorated with Zwarte Piet dolls.
criticism, it doesn’t look like the Dutch Zwarte Piet tradition is one that will
disappear anytime soon.
Zwarte Piet used to sell chocolate in the Netherlands
Nelissen/Youth Journalism International