A white man dressed in red with a long white beard who stuffs presents for children down the chimney in December. Sounds familiar? No, this is not Santa Claus or Christmas I am talking about. It is Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas. A children’s holiday celebrated in the Netherlands that has become the centre of controversy for the last couple of years.
Sinterklaas is celebrated on the 5th of December. On this night, Sinterklaas and his helpers “black Petes” drop off a bag full of presents in front of the doorstep (who has chimneys anymore?) of all the children who have been good for the whole year.
The reason for recent controversies has been the black Petes. They are traditionally portrayed with a black face and thus the people who dress up like them have black faces. With blackface being a very racist image, you might wonder why this is still being done to this very day.
The “Pro-black Petes” claim that the reason for Pete’s face being black has nothing to do with black people or even slavery, it is simply because he originally climbed down the chimney and thus it is just chimney soot, so there is nothing wrong with upholding this tradition
The “Anti-black Petes” disagree. They state that it is very clear that the black Petes are portraying black people or slaves since they do not only have a black face, but they wear an afro-wig, golden hoop earrings, an antique 17th century costume and in addition they paint on big red lips.
The anti movement would like to see Petes in all different kind of colours, portraying the current society, or even rainbow Petes. However it does not seem like this will be happening any time soon.
The Sinterklaas Journal, a TV-show starting a few weeks before the 5th of December and portraying St. Nicholas and the Pete as they prepare for the big evening, usually sets the tone for everyone to follow. Once again they have chosen to continue with the traditional blackface.
Fun Fact: the story goes that naughty children are thrown in a bag by black Pete and taken with him to Spain, where St. Nicholas resides the rest of the year!
What do you think? Is Black Pete a racist character, or is it just black from chimney soot?