Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Zwarte Pieten

A friend of mine clued me in about a bizarre Dutch Christmas tradition. These are the Zwarte Pieten, or "Black Petes," who help out Sinterklaas, the pope-like old man who delivers candy and presents to good little Christians all over Flanders. Sinterklaas and his assistant Zwarte Piet arrive in November from Spain, just like the Hapsburgs, and return every year on December 6. A little early for Christmas, I guess, but no one seems to mind. The trick is that you leave your shoes by the fireplace with some straw or carrots for Sinterklaas' white horse, and he in return puts candy in your shoes for you. Kind of gross, I guess, but here in the States we use our socks, so who am I to criticize?

What's a little disturbing about the Zwarte Pieten is the way they dress. They're done up like blacks in an old Christy Minstrels show, which might not mean anything to the Dutch, but if anyone tried doing themselves up like this in the U.S., the NAACP would be all over their asses in seconds.

This tradition seems a tad racist to me, frankly. Perhaps the American civil rights movement has left everyone in this country a little more sensitive than anywhere else. Some might say too sensitive—but I don't think so. I'd think there'd be complaints on the part of Dutch blacks about this, even though many of the participants no doubt mean no harm. I think I'm a rational person when it comes to these things, and the Zwarte Pieten seem a little inappropriate to me.

Click here for a picture of the Zwarte Pieten, as depicted by the Dutch these days.


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