UPDATED: 9:15 a.m. ET, Dec. 4, 2020 —
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 have been turning against that racist 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 in 2018.
However, despite the increased backlash, including a plea from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to end it as well as a global racial reckoning, the so-called celebration is still going on as planned this year.
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.
The images are jarring and never cease to amaze. Keep reading to find some examples of how Black Pete is celebrated during the holidays in the Netherlands.
1. A Different St. Nicholas Arrival On A Bus Tour To BoxtelSource:Getty
Some of the Petes (Sinterklaas helpers) are inside of a car, greeting people to keep a safe distance during the arrival of St. Nicholas to the city of Boxtel in The Netherlands, on Nov. 29th, 2020.
2. Community In The Hague Continues Sinterklaas And ‘Zwarte Piet’ TraditionSource:Getty
People dressed as Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) and Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) are seen on the street during celebrations of the traditional arrival of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) on Nov. 14, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. Some communities around the Netherlands have continued the Dutch tradition of “Zwarte Piet” (“Black Pete”), in which people wear blackface makeup to portray a folkloric servant of Saint Nicholas, despite increasing controversy for what its critics describe as racist caricature. In 2015, a United Nations committee urged the country to drop the character, finding that ìthe character of Black Pete is sometimes portrayed in a manner that “reflects negative stereotypes of people of African descent and is experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”