Willem Velthoven
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Sinterklaas and his "black petes" arriving in Durgerdam

Dutch racist embarrassment in traditional children's fest.

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 white extra's 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, the skin of the zwarte pieten is not black by it self. It becomes black when they climb through the grime filled chimneys. Besides that they wear Lombardian, North-Italian costumes, probably because in the past North-European chimneys were usually cleaned by the kids of Italian immigrants. This means it might be justifiable to start an annual discussion about working conditions and child labor. But, since the 19th century "zwarte piet" was turned in to a racist caricature by the dutch. The very embarrassing black-faced servants were kept as central actors in this traditional celebration till the beginning of the 21st century when activists of color started to effectively help the dutch population to understand how strange and stupid this tradition was.