The story of Saint Nicholas as it was told to me as a child:
There was a bishop (Saint Nicholas) who wanted to give all children in the Netherlands, in honor of his birthday on the 6th of December, a little present.
He arrives by steamer to the Netherlands with his “Black Petes” helpers (These are minions with faces painted black with unnatural exaggerated red lips) buys his presents and distributes them among all the children. He (Santa) cannot visit all those children personally, so he brings his “black Pete” helpers.
In early December they arrive all together and start handing out the (mostly) toys. The “black Pete’s” were dirty because of climbing down the chimneys; the houses were reached by the chimneys without anyone seeing it. And according to myths, “Black Pete” took you to Spain if you have not been a good child all year.
Black Petes doing their underground work of Christmas gifts ‘distributions’ to kids had so much power, but may not be aware of it, because St Nicholas really could not check all the children personally and they report back to St. Nicholas.
A big stick behind the door for all parents so that the children behaved well, at least early December. So far, that’s the story of Saint Nicholas and “black Pete” as it was told to me as a child.
Then back to the current time:
This is not about the story of slavery and oppression, the details of which is for another day. The myth of Black Pete has overstayed its relevance, it makes no sense in today’s world. Black Pete, a position viewed as inferior to Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) is demeaning.
It really feels unfair to be colored in this day and age and be witnessing this tradition entrenched in slavery annually. It must be a torture.
We all live in this tiny country, the Netherlands, and we are seen by the world as a tolerant country. Let us be tolerant and accept our fellow people just as they are; not better, not worse but just like everyone is.
Yes, we claim it to be ‘’our tradition’’, but I am sure there are some traditions that belong in history and Museums.
So yes, I think that Saint Nicholas and the black Pete debate is racist and that we should give it up. Traditions are there to be changed and adjusted to the times in which we live.
The NOW is all we have here together. Let’s try to make this NOW a better one, with respect for each other, regardless of religion, skin color or whatever.
By Hilde Jetten for awefirm.org (Dec. 2016)
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
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