For many generations, the blackface assistant of Santa Claus—known as Black Pete—has been a beloved central figure at Christmastime for the Dutch. But a growing number of people in the Netherlands are now turning against that tradition.
“I think we have reached the tipping point,” Bert Theunissen, a professor of history at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told the Christian Science Monitor.
The Dutch have long viewed the nation as a bastion of liberalism and welcoming of diversity. However, the rise of right-wing extremists in response to immigration has forced many of them to re-evaluate the national character. That has no doubt caused many to rethink their cavalier attitude about Black Pete and realize that the character represents slavery and oppression of Black people.
According to the Dutch tradition, Black Pete—not Santa—is the one who actually crawls down chimneys to deliver gifts to children. Pete’s blackness comes from all the soot in those chimneys. However, instead of smearing their faces and clothes with soot, Black Pete performers typically wear full blackface, Afro wigs and often large red lips.
Much of the growing opposition in the Netherlands to Pete comes from Black people who are organizing protests and igniting debate. They are forcing the Dutch to remember that their nation colonized people of color for more than three centuries and to acknowledge that the colonizer mentality persists.
Here are some examples of how Black Pete is celebrated during the holidays: