The Dutch…Blackface for Christmas?

Chelsea Coss, Editor in Chief

In Katwijk, Netherlands, there is a controversial tradition around the holidays revolving around Zwarte Piet or better known as “Black Pete.”

Black Pete is a from Dutch folklore, a black man that keeps the book of records for St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas. In the Netherlands, they celebrate by dressing as Black Pete and arriving by steamboat for the start of the holiday festivities.

The problem is, Zwarte Piet is black, while the Netherlands is pretty white. So we have white men, painting themselves black and wearing afro wigs to represent this man. It strikes African Americans, and other visitors and tourists, as well as immigrants in the Netherlands as racist, arrogant, and insensitive.

There is many sides of the argument, some see it in the same light as the American theatrical tradition of black face. The Dutch see it as a tradition and a sign of sainthood and high praise. Others even insist that Black Pete is not actually black, but simply stained from years of going down the chimney.

The origins of Black Pete go back to 1859, in a book about St. Nicholas having a “servant.” Which, honestly, is probably code for “slave.” But, the Dutch see it as a jolly character filled with warmth and holiday feelings.

Since the controversial tradition was brought to attention, the Dutch have been split in two, with some feeling very strongly about taking all blackface out of the holiday,  while others are engaged in protests pro-blackface.

A huge issue revolving around this is, kids aren’t generally taught the darker parts of Dutch history, and remain ignorant to the true story behind Black Pete. So, many innocent children still see him as a holiday figure, and not a slave to St. Nicholas.

The tradition is still going on, but with much more debate. Will the Netherlands update their celebrations to reflect the sensitivity of others? Or stick to tradition?

For more in depth information, see this article. An excerpt: “Probably every black person in the Netherlands has been called a ‘Black Piet’ at least once in his or her life, especially in the weeks prior to December 5,” wrote Dutch journalist Marthe van der Wolf. “It hurts; it always has and always will.”‘