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Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet, Christmas in Netherlands

by James Denison / October 28, 2013 5:23 PM PDT
sounds more like Halloween than Christmas.

"In America you have Santa Claus, in the UK he's Father Christmas,
and in the Netherlands he's called Sinterklaas. Unlike the other
Santas, though, the Dutch Sinterklaas arrives with his slave/servant
called Zwarte Piet. The slave-servant comes dressed like a renaissance
minstrel: black face, painted red lips, afro wig. The arrival is a huge
event: Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten make a grand entrance, and the
whole parade is broadcast on public television. Sinterklaas sits tall on
a white horse while his black servants share out candy to the kids on
the sidelines, and families from all over the country turn up to watch.
Or course, there are always several Black Petes, typically played by
white people, all in blackface, with red painted lips and afro wigs. The
transformation, however, is not complete with the outfit and
greasepaint. The character must speak poor Dutch with a stupid accent,
and must act childlike and mischievous when performing. And from
mid-November, when Sintaklass and his servants arrive, you can see
Zwarte Pieten all over, on television programmes and commercials and on
the streets, acting the fool."
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He's black because he's a chimney sweep, and he's the one
by Ziks511 / October 29, 2013 9:38 AM PDT

who puts coal in your stocking if you've been bad. I've always seen Sinter Klaas written as two separate words. and Zwarte Piet was his counter part or servant, definitely not a slave. However since the 19th Century Minstrel craze which was picked up in Europe too, the black faced Zwarte Piet has become confused with the black faced pseudo African-American minstrels.

Should you be interested there's a little segment in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle as Macy's Santa Claus sings the Dutch kids song Danke Sinter Klaas with a little girl who is new to the United States. This may be a Hollywood nod to orphans adopted by American parents and American Servicemen with wives. The movie falls into the right time period.

The Guardian's writer seems thoroughly confused as to his linguistic Dutch too. Black Peter is Zwarte Piet or Zwarte Pietr, more than one Black Peter is Zwarten Pieten or Pietren. His writing seems to mix the two regularly.

The Dutch have always been clear that Zwarte Piet is actually white under all the soot, but it is the Extreme Right in Holland who have added the racial overtones to the term and it is a post 1980's twist. That's the trouble with the Right, you can't trust them to respect original meanings if twisting them will enable them to put down a racial group, or a gender group or misrepresent their opponents.


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by James Denison / October 30, 2013 7:47 AM PDT

does the coal curl their hair and redden their lips too? Just sort of a Mary Poppins dancing chimney sweeps on the rooftop thing?

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by Steven Haninger / October 29, 2013 9:52 AM PDT

You also have, in mummers plays, the "fool" or "jester" who, at Christmas or other festive times is elevated to the level of the "Lord of Misrule" and who oversees the merriment. During this time, all may be absolved of their wisdom and free to act like children. Mardi Gras is like that but on steroids. I guess people need a break from being rational humans from time to time. Must be genetic.

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