Thoughts and memories of living and traveling abroad

Zwarte Piet

Let me introduce you to Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)…

Zwarte Piet

Who is Zwarte Piet you ask? Well Santa’s helper of course. Sorry, I mean Sinterklaas, I’ve been corrected by the Dutch that is he not the same thing as our American version of Santa Claus, even though it’s an old white man with a white beard wearing a red robe that delivers presents. Anyways, I’ve recently been introduced to Zwarte Piet and the Dutch holiday that he is part of.

Sinkerlass and Piet

December 5th is St. Nicholas Eve here in the Netherlands where they celebrate Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of children. In the weeks leading up to December 5th there are several celebrations and events throughout the city. Such as the one I am watching on TV right now. Hundreds of ‘Black Peters’ are parading about the streets in search of Sinterklass who is arriving by boat from Spain. And yes, those would be white Dutch men and woman with black face makeup, black curly-haired wigs and bright red lipstick.

The historical version is that Zwarte Piet was a Moor, which makes sense with him coming from Spain. However, today they tell the children Zwarte Piet is black because he climbs down the chimneys to bring them their presents. Zwarte Piet is America’s version of receiving coal on Christmas… however if you’re naughty Zwarte Piet will kidnap you and bring you back to Spain!

The other day I was eating some yummy Dutch cookies called kriudnoten. Later, I learned that these are what the Zwarte Pieten throw at the children… to lure them onto a boat to Spain!


Of course this is up for debate, mainly between expats and the Dutch. You can read about it here.

Whatever the perception, the Dutch are proud of their holiday and the children seem to enjoy it.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet on Roof


5 responses

  1. ik wil en koek snoep

    November 29, 2011 at 11:08 pm

  2. Philippus

    Yes most of the Dutch people are proud of the Sinterklaas tradition, it is a tradition predating that of Santa Claus (Sinterklaas is where the Santa Claus tradition originated from). It has Christian and pre-Christian Germanic roots. The kruidnoten are not meant to lure the children onto the boot and zwarte Pieten are not meant to portray slaves.

    @ Deborah Abraham: It is easy to judge a tradition if you don’t know a thing about it, read into it maybe then you would be less judgmental. Unless you are being sarcastic, in judging things you don’t know a thing about you are being backwards yourself.

    I think it is a good thing to cherish and preserve our traditions and defend them if that is needed.

    November 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm

  3. absolutely disgusting!!! outdated, backwards mentality of the dutch people is apparent in this practice!!! Tell these black peters to go back to their own country!!!

    March 24, 2010 at 12:40 am

    • gyula

      @Deborah Are you telling us to send Zwarte Piet back to Africa, a rather racist comment to make i would say….

      November 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    • Guy Pavane

      I heard that next year they will introduce a black Sinterklaas with white Pieten…

      November 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm

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