The October chill has set in, reminding us that it’s almost time for Saint Nick — no, wait, I can’t say that: Muslims and atheists are offended by saints.
It’s almost time for Santa Claus — no, look! There’s a “saint” hidden in “Santa”!
OK, it’s almost time for Kris Kringle to slither down they chimney and deliver the treats to all those good little girls and boys. H. Numan sends his annual essay on the ancient Dutch origins of the tradition, and the efforts of the PC brigade to scupper it.
But just wait till the Powers That Be find out that “Kris Kringle” is derived from the German dialect word Christkindl, or “Christ Child”. Then I’ll be in deep trouble for allowing an implicit instance of the C-word to appear in a public space. They’ll flay me alive!
It’s that time of the year.
by H. Numan
The happy season is about to begin. It’s almost a tradition by now: I have to explain that Black Pete has nothing to do with racism. Year after year after year. Left-wing activists never give up. Neither do I. So here’s the background for those of you who are not familiar with this very sad affair.
Let’s start with Santa. The original Dutch Santa, that is. It goes back to pre-medieval times, even. But we start with Saint Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra (in Turkey) in 343 AD. His festival day is 5 December, and widely celebrated in The Netherlands and Belgium. Your Santa is a mixture of German, Dutch and Anglo-Saxon traditions. They merged together into Santa or Kris Kringle. The Dutch original is much, much older.
The present version goes like this: Sinterklaas (that’s were ‘Santa’ comes from) or Sint Nicolaas lives in a palace in Spain. No igloo in Nunavut for him! The lovable bishop travels once per year on a steamboat from Spain to The Netherlands, where his arrival is televised on all media and witnessed by all children. The mayor of the town welcomes him, and Sinterklaas makes a grand tour through the city. Your American Santa is a fat jolly man, always laughing ho ho ho. Our Sinterklaas is a Roman Catholic bishop. He’s a bit more formal than your Santa and certainly not overweight. He is dressed in full bishop regalia, including the pointy hat and the crucifer.
His arrival is always on the first Saturday of November. From that day onward, children are wildly exited. They don’t hang their stockings by the chimney, but place their shoe in front of the fireplace. Or central heating system, nowadays. Often with a bowl of water and or a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse, which is named Amerigo. Always a dapple, and his name is always Amerigo. Why that is, I have no idea. Parents, as you already guessed, put some candy in the shoes. Sometimes little gifts as well.
Sinterklaas is not (yet) an issue. But his helpers definitely are. Sinterklaas is always accompanied by jet black-Moorish servants, called Zwarte Piet(en) or Black Pete(s). Left-wing extremists — and that includes the full upper echelons of Dutch society — want to abolish Black Pete, for that is ‘blackface’ and that is ‘racism’. Or so the story goes.
Sheer ranting idiotic nonsense. As I said, our Sinterklaas lives in a palace in Spain. His black Moorish servants are dressed in 16th century fashion. That is the time of our national revolution, the 80 Years’ War against Spain. Why did Sinterklaas take up residence in Madrid? Well, at the time that was ‘far away’. About the same as your Santa living on the North Pole, but with much nicer weather. Our tradition, as we celebrate it now, has its origins in that 80 Years’ War.
Zwarte Piet is definitely not in blackface. First of all, most North European “santas” have black helpers. That is usually a depiction of the (tamed) devil. Until the last century Black Pete accompanied Santa on foot, with a bag of goodies and a bunch of twigs to chastise bad children. Once the bag was empty, Black Pete filled it up with naughty kids who had to do a stretch in the marzipan groves in Spain. Until WW2, Sinterklaas was accompanied by one Pete, or at best two.
The way we celebrate it now comes from 1945, courtesy of our American and Canadian liberators. The last winter of the war, 1944-45, was terrible. Very cold, and almost nothing left to eat. The only recorded mass starvation in a first-world country happened in Holland, and the results are even today studied among the descendants of the affected families.
So in October 1945, the mayor of Amsterdam asked the Canadian commander for assistance. Why, of course! We’ll be happy to do what we can, was the reply. Once the troopers were familiar with the story and the tradition, they went for it. Instead of one or two Black Petes, lots of Canadians dressed up, and clowned around. Everybody loved it. Before 1945, Black Pete was much more of a bogeyman. ‘Behave, or Black Pete will put you in his bag to Spain for a year!’ mothers used to tell their unruly children. From 1945 he became a friendly clown handing out sweets.
There is no relation at all with blackface, racism or discrimination whatsoever. However, if you think long, deep and hard, you always find what you want. Which is blackface, racism and discrimination.