Willem Velthoven
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Nicolas (in Dutch: Sinterklaas, born in the year 280) was a christian priest and bishop of Myra, located in present day Turkey. Nowadays he is the patron of the Amsterdam docks. He was a child prodigy who, according to fables, could multiply food and calm savage water currents. Besides that he was known for his habit to share money and gold with the other kids. Even now, every December St. Nicolas comes to The Netherlands to bring presents and sweets to the Dutch children, a role which in other countries is fulfilled by Santa. His arrival in The Netherlands is ritually celebrated in every city and town, and is also broadcast by national television. His long white beard and red bishops mantle make St. Nicolas very recognizable. His assistants, the 'zwarte pieten' (black Pete's), are always with him. They are the ones that carry the gifts and candy. These zwarte pieten are generally women who paint their face black. Every year this sparks a discussion about the relation between St. Nicolas and his black servants. People never fail to point out the racist connotation. Historically, however, the skin of the zwarte pieten is not black at all: they are, after all, from Spain. It becomes black when they climb through the grime filled chimneys. Besides that they wear North-Italian costumes, because in the past North-European chimneys were usually cleaned by the kids of Italian immigrants. This means it might be more correct to start an annual discussion about working conditions and child labor.