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