'Black Pete' tradition splits Dutch society

0:00

A debate has been raging in the Netherlands over whether the 'Black Pete' Christmas tradition is racist.

A parade to celebrate the arrival of St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is a much loved November ritual in the Netherlands.

However each year St Nicholas is accompanied by an army of helpers in blackface sporting afro wigs, an aspect of the parade known as the "Black Pete" tradition which has been condemned as racist.

Two years ago Quincy Gario was detained by police for wearing a shirt that railed against the controversial tradition.

"I've been receiving death threats for the past couple of months, and it's been a really harrowing experience, because you don’t actually expect this in a country like the Netherlands," Mr Gario said.

"The last ten years we’ve had two politically motivated deaths here in the country, so I do think I need to watch my back."

The image of a black assistant in Holland’s St Nicholas tradition first appeared in the 1850s.

Since that time, the image of Black Pete has undergone many transformations: from demonic, to dumb, to executive assistant.

According to historian Albert Van Der Zeijden, the character of Black Pete is a manager for St Nicholas, who puts together and advertises the entire feast.

"He’s a modern figure and not stupid anymore," he said.

However this apparent transformation is not putting the issue to bed, with a UN human rights inquiry into the controversial tradition to come. 

Source SBS

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch