A politically incorrect christmas in Amsterdam

17 Nov

Christmas in Amsterdam is a wondrous time. We have belgian waffles stands, ice skating rinks, decorations all round…

We also have Black Pete. 

According to Wikipedia:

“ In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Flanders, Zwarte Piet ( pronunciation (help·info)) (meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas. The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’s feast, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, allegedly travelling from Spain). “…. In the old days, parents would  also warn their children: “If you don’t behave, Black Pete will come and take you with him back to Spain.” **

Black Pete and SinterKlaus

Right now in Holland, Black Pete is somewhat of a celebrity. Strolling through the streets of Amsterdam, one will  invariably see an assortment of Black Pete puppets and figurines adorning shop windows…There are Black Pete CDs, Black Pete wrapping paper, Black Pete Costumes for rent. There are even Black Pete impersonators who you can pose with in photos ( see pic of Evelein below).  Seriously, this guy’s bigger than Miley Cyrus.   

Lucky Evelein

What I find so hilarious about Black Pete, is that he is so hilariously inappropriate. Seriously, in any other country, if grown men were to adorn afro wigs and paint their faces black, they would be scorned! In fact, this very thing happened in Australia early this year on a TV talent show –“Hey Hey it’s Saturday”, where there was quite a scandal over a skit involving 5 men covered in black facepaint and black wigs.  Harry Conick Junior was a guest judge at the time, and was so offended by this that the station was forced to issue a public apology. The ‘blackface” skit even made international headlines, spreading a misconception overseas that Australians are one of the most racist peoples in the world (We’re not by the way, we’re really quite nice!)

Oh, and the 5 guys got a grand score of zero for their performance.


Not Cool.

Harry's not impressed.


Now, I am by no means implying that the Dutch are racist (they too are really quite nice!), but I chuckle to think how a modern, politically correct parent would struggle to explain Black Pete to their child: 

“ Child: Mummy, why does Pete have a black face?

Mum: It’s just soot darling, from when he slides down the chimne.y.

Child: But mummy, why does he have black curly hair and big red lips?

Mum: …”

Now, I could go on a critical rant condemning Black Pete as a racist caricature from a colonial past, or I could just accept the fact that Black Pete is now so firmly rooted in Dutch culture and tradition, that the Dutch have decided to turn a collective blind eye to the whole inappropriateness issue. And, as I walk through the streets of Amsterdam peering at him through shop windows, I think I might just do the same thing 🙂


** In a vain attempt to link this post to food, wikipedia also states that:  “The tasks of Zwarte Pieten is mostly to amuse children and to scatter pepernoten and candies around at children…”


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