Protests Over ‘Black Pete’ Character Held During Christmas Parades Across The Netherlands

'Black Pete' is either an honored cultural tradition or an ugly celebration of racism, depending on whom you ask.

black pete arrives with sinterklaas
zoetnet / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 Cropped, resized.)

'Black Pete' is either an honored cultural tradition or an ugly celebration of racism, depending on whom you ask.

Christmas parades across The Netherlands turned into a scene of protests against “Black Pete” — a character in Dutch tradition who accompanies St. Nicholas during his gift-giving. Dressing as “Black Pete” involves putting on blackface, and many Dutch view it as an uncomfortable act of racism.

As Reuters reports, Christmas parades were held all across the country today to welcome the arrival of St. Nicholas — referred to as “Sinterklaas” in the local tongue — and his companion, “Zwarte Piet,” aka “Black Pete.”

Who Is Zwarte Piet/Black Pete?

In American Christian tradition, Christmas is represented by a benevolent gift-giver named St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, the American version of Santa/St. Nicholas leaves out several other figures that have been attached to St. Nick over the centuries. For example, in many European Christian traditions, Santa (or an equivalent figure within the local culture) is accompanied by an antithesis — a horned demon named Krampus who will eat naughty children, drown them, beat them with sticks, or drag them to Hell, depending on the tradition.

In The Netherlands, Sinterklaas is accompanied by a buddy who hands out candy and sweets to well-behaved children, as opposed to torturing bad kids. He’s a Moor from Spain and is depicted as dark-skinned. For many Dutch, that means putting on blackface to portray him.

black pete
  Sander van der Wel / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Good Fun, Or Racism?

In one camp are the Dutch who say that Black Pete is a harmless bit of fun that has been part of the country’s Christmas tradition for over a century. In the other camp are those who say that it is racist for a white person to wear blackface, regardless of the reason.

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Due to the controversy surrounding the sensitive topic, police were called in to keep things from getting ugly in various Dutch cities and towns.

In Apeldoorn, a man dressed as Black Pete was arrested for refusing to go to a specific area set aside for protests. In The Hague, four people were arrested for storming a building where anti-Black Pete protests were being held. In several other cities, “Kick Out Black Pete” protests were canceled in response to the incident in The Hague. However, protests continued to take place in both The Hague and Groningen.

According to a recent poll conducted, 59 percent of Dutch people want to keep “Zwarte Piet” as he is (in blackface), while the other 26 percent believe that he should be phased out.