Zwarte Pete

A Racist Dutch Christmas?

Culture shock is a common occurrence for many Brits when travelling to Asia or South America, but only 115 miles from our very shores you may be very surprised to see around Christmas time the Dutch “black up” for a tradition we might find a little racist!

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) has been a tradition in The Netherlands that dates as far back as 1845. This yearly event which is on the 5thof December involves season revelers blackening their faces and wearing afro wigs, gold jewellery, bright red lipstic, throwing sweets to passers-by and oddly putting sweets into the shoes of all the good children.

Sinterkalss and Zwarte Pete

As much as we may find this tradition a little racist to say the least, it a contentious issue for may Dutch too, but, this being said I personally witnessed firsthand this festive custom my initial reaction was one of pure disbelieve, my first question what “what the f*** are you doing?” after being given a brief explanation of the character (Black Pete) I still had a sour taste in my mouth and trying not to be confrontational I began to explain that if someone was to do the same thing in the UK more so in the south of England they would be beaten to a pulp and most likely wouldn’t make it through the night lying in a hospital bed. My friends explained that he was not black and that his black coloured face was due to him going down the chimney and the fact he was Santa’s “helper” didn’t put my mind at ease.

The Dutch are renowned for their laid back and liberal attitude but they seemed quite angry that I was questioning their century old praxis and they couldn’t see the inherent racist symbolism. Their final words were “without Zwarte Pete it just wouldn’t be Christmas, Santa and Pete go hand in hand.”

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