As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, our Dutch correspondent H. Numan presents some detailed background information on the venerable tradition of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) and Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) in the Netherlands.
What exactly is Black Pete?
by H. Numan
Difficult question, as the origins are hidden in the fog of history. There isn’t a single fixed date on which Black Pete emerged. Same for Saint Nicholas. The saint took over an existing pre-Christian festival. The poor saint always had problems, because after the Dutch revolt Calvinists ruled the country, and they didn’t like saints one little bit. Something like the Puritans of Cromwell: if it’s fun, it’s sin. So they tried — in vain — to banish the festival. We’re talking 17th-18th centuries here.
Black Pete might be a symbol for the devil. Other Santas in Europe are clearer about that. Schmutzli is the companion of Samiclaus, who is almost a 100% twin brother of Saint Nicholas.
In The Netherlands, Black Pete has never been associated with slavery in any way. He was always depicted as a servant, a companion or a friend.
Usually Black Petes are just ordinary Dutch (M/F) wearing a costume with a lot of makeup on their face. Anyone can be a Black Pete. Even my old mum (long ago, of course) was one many occasions one. Most often Black Petes are teenage boys, but this isn’t a rule. My mum had great fun being Black Pete, and she particularly liked it when people not only didn’t know who she was, but also had difficulty discovering her sex. There aren’t female Black Petes; they all are dressed exactly the same — male only.
Now, here’s a nice thought: that is blatant discrimination based on sex. Why aren’t there female Black Petes? Feminists, join the anti-Pete movement!
The role of Black Pete has changed over de centuries. At first he was the ‘bad cop’, Saint Nicolas being the good cop. You can still see that in the bundle of twigs Black Petes often carry. Those twigs were used to chastise naughty children. Really bad kids were put in the bag (now bereft of gifts) and taken to Spain for punishment. Putting coal in a stocking is for wimpy fat Santas!
Today Black Pete is very different. From a bogeyman he changed into the friend and companion of Santa, helping the old man (Saint Nicholas is supposed to be many centuries old) out. We used to have one Pete accompanying the saint, nowadays there are many. Some in management positions, such as the “Head Pete” and the “Gift Pete”; others clown around.
Children used to be scared of Black Pete, but no longer. “Black Pete is going to put you in the bag to Spain if you don’t behave!” is something only old geezers (such as myself…) remember from their childhood. Today Black Pete is an amiable figure, well loved by children. In fact, some kids are more afraid of Saint Nicholas than Black Pete. Black Pete makes funny faces and gives them candy. Saint Nicholas is a stern-looking prelate of the church. Given the track record of RC prelates, who can blame them?
Another question is: is The Netherlands losing its tolerance?
Yes and no. The Dutch are usually very easygoing people. “Do as you like, as long as you don’t bother others with it” is the general attitude. A centuries-old tradition, which brought among others Spinoza and Descartes to live there.
That attitude is prevalent in many issues that are almost impossible elsewhere. Why is smoking marijuana (sort of) legal in The Netherlands? Well, because it is next to impossible to ban and you don’t bother anyone with it. So why spent a fortune on the impossible?
Why did gay marriage become legal first in The Netherlands? Same story: it has nothing to do with religion (a civil marriage is a contractual obligation between two persons), and it doesn’t affect others at all. Unless those others are going to peek in the couple’s bedroom. Which is none of their business to begin with).
And now we see something quite un-Dutch: political correctness is as opposite as you can get from that ‘never mind, do what you want as long as you keep it to yourself’ attitude.
Since this Black Pete storm in a teacup started in September politically very correct people are as busy as they dare affecting others. The national ombudsman is one of their high priests, and he ordained ex cathedra that the Dutch government and the population are very much racist.
Politically correct persons ride on his wagon, and find all kinds of terrible racist abuses. The Dutch police, for example, are highly racist. They tend to observe minorities (beggars, juvenile boys in groups, suspicious East Europeans, etc.) more closely than other people, and that is racist.
Facts are irrelevant. A group of “North African” type juvenile boys is very often going to be trouble. That’s what common sense tells you.
Suppose you see a gang of boys with bottles of liquor in a bad part of town. Are you going to avoid them, or pass them by as if they are kindergarten girls on an outing?
If you are politically correct, the latter. Supposing the “impossible” happens, that means there aren’t enough police, and they are without enough powers, and they only eat donuts?
Getting back on topic. Black Pete has nothing to do with racism. Just as calling a waiter in French garçon doesn’t mean you’re shouting: Boy, come over here! Even though the word “garçon” means boy.
Black faces in America are something very different from what at first glance appears the same in The Netherlands. Black Pete never was a black face, though he has a blackened face.
How many people are involved in the anti-Pete issue? Not a lot; the foot soldiers can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Just a few extreme left-wing white and less ethnically colored people. However, since this is a major issue for politically correct people, it tends to get on people’s nerves.
If you want to be someone in Dutch society you have to be politically correct; that’s party-wide. Doesn’t make much difference which party you would support (except one); you have to be politically correct. That means there are a heck of a lot of people enforcing their fantasies on society. Because those zealots are doing whatever they think they can get away with.
In one town political correctness suggested Saint Nicholas should not be accompanied by Black Petes, become a bit fatter, be a bit more cheerful (“ho, ho, ho”) and be driven in a limousine as he is to fat to sit on a horse. Oh, and without that cross, as we do not want to offend other (salaam!) religions, do we?
Imagine Obama taking time off from his healthcare program and suggesting Kris Kringle must change from his red outfit into a red jalaba riding a cart pulled by donkeys or camels as not to offend other (salaam!) religions.
Don’t think for a minute the government is any different. If anything, they would love to see a jolly chap in a red suit riding a donkey cart on Ashura. If those ignorant bigoted illiterate dumb racists — their electorate — would only swallow it.
Wouldn’t you lose your tolerance too?
Note: The feared violence over the issue of Black Pete did not materialize today, at least in Groningen (hat tip Fjordman):
45,000 Celebrate Sinterklaas Arrival in Groningen
The arrival of Sinterklaas in Groningen was attended by some 45,000 people and there were no protests about the inclusion of Zwarte Piet in the parade, Nos television said on Saturday.