We met at a cafe where you had some problems with your computer. Together we tackled the problem, talked a bit about travelling and said goodbye. I forgot your name, but remember that awesome Australian accent. We met again two day’s later. I was zipping my beer, minding my own business and far away from being even a little tipsy.
You came out of nowhere, clearly intoxicated by alcohol, drugs or whatever substance made you pat me (too hard) on my shoulder, while shouting: “Hey Holland, how are you man….. hey, what the fuck is going on with Black Piet?”
I really wasn’t in any mood to answer that one. ‘Not here, not now, actually not ever, but definitely not while you’re drunk’. So I gave you the fuck-off-answer: ‘I don’t know‘.
Yeah, sorry about that. But you know, I’m just a bit weary when it comes to people who mix overenthusiastic greetings and an overdosis alcohol with asking complicated questions.
However dear Aussie (I think your name was Jack or John), I do think you have a valid question and there are more people like you who love to hear the answer. So I hope you’ve sobered up, because there is no easy way here!
But first, for all those no-knows out there who never heard about Sinterklaas or Black Piet, let me start by briefly explaining this lovely Dutch tradition!
Yes Aussie, Holland and the Netherlands are the same. We are from Holland and the Netherlands. We speak Dutch (not Netherlandish) and our nationality is Dutch. We are NOT Germans, they’re our neighbors. They speak German, come from Germany and their nationality is German (simple people). Germans call their language DEUTSH . That may sound as DUTCH, but it’s not! Stop calling us Germans!
Anyway, about our lovely tradition:
What is Sinterklaas?
Every year, on 5 December we celebrate the birthday of Sinterklaas. In Belgium they also celebrate Sinterklaas, but on 6 December. That’s totally wrong! The real Sinterklaas actually died on 6 december. It’s alright though. because they are from Belgium and Dutch people don’t take Belgians very serious. Did you know that the average Dutch guy can tell you more than a 100 jokes about Belgians? They can!
Sinterklaas is a celebration for young children, let’s say up to age of 8, 9 or 10. The real Sinterklaas story is very complicated and filled with lots of blanks. So around the year 1850 a brilliant Dutch school teacher changed the whole damned story in a way it would perfectly pass all kinds of Dutch standards.
Now, Sinterklaas lives in Spain. Well, he actually lived in Turkey, but since the Netherlands and Turkey were no homies in 1850 the brilliant teacher changed that too.
Once a year, Sinterklaas steps on his Spanish steam boot and heads towards Holland, where he celebrates his birthday by giving gifts to all children who believe Sinterklaas is Sinterklaas (some kids have genuine doubts and don’t believe he’s the real deal, wise little Dutchies).
By the way…. don’t confuse our Sinterklaas with Santa Claus! That’s a total fraud, a fake and a big copy-cat! He comes a couple of weeks after our Sinterklaas, during peoples’ most vulnerable moment of the year: Christmas! (shame on him!)
Santa Claus is small, heavily build and laughs like a seal. Our Sinterklaas is tall, handsome, muscular and has a wise laugh ( like Harry Potters headmaster, professor Dumbledore). Sinterklaas can perform miracles (really he can!), does great things with his staff and is in fact a real Saint!
Santa Claus is just a commercial invention to rip people from their money. He makes little people work in freezing temperatures and uses big flying rain deer. Can you imagine: a flying deer! No Dutch kid would ever fall for that one.
No Aussie, that’s not even close to how our Sinterklaas works his magic!
Sinterklaas works like this
On the night of december 5, Sinterklaas steps on his white Spanish horse called Amerigo. A very special horse, because it can walk on any roof top (really it can!). With the speed of light, Sinterklaas visits every house in Holland where children are living to deliver one, two or twenty gifts . The gifts always go through a chimney, always! Even kids that don’t have a chimney get their presents through a chimney.
Sinterklaas can’t do all that acrobatic stuff of course, so he brings a zillion helpers from Spain. The guy is over 1700 years old and can’t remember the name of each helper, so he just calls all of them “Piet’. (Just say ‘Pete’ very, very, very fast!)
And SHIT are they amazing! Every Piet can climb like a squirrel, run like a cheetah and work like a horse. They can do tricks no one dares to try and some Piets even have magic powers. Piet can climb through any chimney, no matter how small or tiny it may be. That’s why his face is always covered wit soot and people call him Black Piet.
When it starts getting dark in The Netherlands, around 6 in the afternoon, the helpers enter the children’s homes through the chimney and hide the present(s) somewhere in the house. Some lazy Piets just drop them in the living room, but most Piets try to hide the presents very well.
Some kids are lucky! They get a personal visit from Sinterklaas and Black Piet. Other kids will get their present in another way. Some have to search the gifts in the house, others get them from their parents or just find them in their room. Kids will never forget to check their shoes, because most of the time Piet will hide some candy or chocolate in one or both shoes.
The presents are actually just a part of the whole celebration. The best part of Sinterklaas are the days leading up to 5 december. Kids will meet Sinterklaas at schools or their sport clubs and even on the streets you can see many Piets. The presents are actually the last part of Sinterklaas. After the kids receive their presents, the party abruptly comes to an end and the Sinterklaas festival is over.
Small historical flashback
Now as you may know, or hopefully didn’t, about 300 years ago the Netherlands was not the second best country in the world, but the best! Yes, we were!
In that time we, The Dutch, occupied many important parts of the word. We were very good at trading and discovering new place, like South-Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and even The USA! Dit you know New York actually means ‘New Amsterdam’? It does! We traded it with the Americans and got a whole country (Suriname) in return.
However, we also did some very bad things. We conquered regions or countries and forced the locals to work for us. We even kidnapped many of them and sold them as slaves to other countries.
It actually took a long time but around 1914 the Dutch finally abandoned slavery. Instead we just paid certain groups of people in our country or abroad, not enough money for doing the same work.
The new Dutchies somewhere in 1950 or so, felt guilty about the bad things their forefathers had done. They felt that Holland should compensate the damages we did during the periods of slavery. They felt that people from countries that were occupied by the Dutch should have the same rights as the people from The Netherlands.
And that’s exactly what happend. We changed some laws and made it possible for people from the colonies to move to The Kingdom of the Healthy, Wealthy, Safe and Free Netherlands. They legally became Dutch citizens of The Holland with all rights and obligations that come with it.
Ok, I’m giving you the short version, because in reality is more complicated, but it’s enough to get the Sinterklaas picture.
Fact and point is, that everything worked out pretty well. New and old Dutchies fell in love, got married and got children. Those children got children and so on. Everything became mixed up and that actually wasn’t a problem for most Dutchies.
People from other countries may find it a bit strange: marrying someone from a different culture, but in The Netherlands it works great and even turned out to have some nice benefits! Did you think Dutch people know so much about other cultures because we travel a lot?
That’s true, but not the only reason!
In Holland, everyone is doing it with everyone We absolutely don’t care. From Americans to Asians and Eskimo’s to Aussies, we do ’em all! We have guys marrying guys and girls marrying girls. And it all works fine!
We actually think it’s pretty cool when people from different cultures get married! Beside the Dutch idea that love should have no borders, we discovered that marrying people from another culture, actually has huge benefits. For example: it’s a great way to learn about other countries and cultures, without actually having to go there.
In Holland we look at who you really are! Your character and your spirit is the only thing that matters to us!
We don’t care about your skin color. We look at boobs, buts and yes: size matters too, but we don’t care what color those body parts are. If you think the USA is the free world, HA, foolish you! Just visit Holland for a couple of days and you will experience how the free world really works. (just don’t walk on the red bicycle lanes. That really pisses us off!)
So by now our country is like a very small, teeny-weeny USA. Not as violent, ignorant or rude of course, but just culturally very mixed. You may find Dutchies with roots in Suriname, Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey, Poland, China, India, Pakistan, Italy and so on. Name them, we got them and they come in all kinds of colors!
So, back to Piet….
Yes, sorry for drifting off a bit, Aussie. It’s a big thing here in Holland you know. I have to be thorough and even a bit careful about what and how I write things up.
So you noticed something is going on here with Sinterklaas and Black Piet. Well done! I also noticed something. Wherever I go and whomever I talk to about Sinterklaas, people always mention how much they love Black Piet.
Really, they do!
My friend in the UK called it ‘hilarious‘ and my friends in the Maldives think he’s ‘cool‘. Even my good buddy Chanaka from Sri Lanka (who really thinks all foreign traditions are ridiculous) called it ‘nice‘.
Seriously, everyone in the whole wide world LOVES Black Piet. Everyone, except us, the Dutch!
And this is why….
After decades of celebrating Sinterklaas (because that’s what the whole damned party is actually all about), some of the Dutch noticed that Black Piet, is actually and indeed, very dark-skinned, Not dark-brown, not ultra-gray but just black as soot (translation for Dutchies here).
Everyone loves Piet, but not all love Black Piet…Now, as I mentioned earlier, for decades the Dutch people told their children that the black color on Piets face comes from the soot of the chimney. Sounds plausible to you?
Not to a growing number of Dutchies
More and more Dutchies see Black Piet as a symbol of racism, discrimination and slavery. They find the idea of a white-skinned man being helped by a black-skinned guy offensive and discriminating.
Some of them hate Black Piet so much they started protesting on the streets and sabotaging events where Black Piet dares to show his face. We even got a Dutchie who had a really bad case of this Black-Piet infection which made him fuck up his marriage and got him sacked from his job. Awful, right?!
Now, you have to know that each and every citizen of the Netherlands was born with the idea that we, the Dutch should make everyone in the whole fucking
World Netherlands happy. Driven by this unstoppable motivation of finding consensus, many Dutchies are now completely loosing it.
For example: they made Black Piet green, yellow, white, red and in some cases they made Black Piet look like a gay-rainbow. Surely there are many gay Piets, but definitely not all of them! Would you believe me when I say that people even went to court, trying to prevent Black Piet from being Black Piet? Really, they did!
The non-traditional Black Piets…. not bad, right?In an effort to find the best and better solution we, the Dutch, are now at a point where we find ourselves at war with fellow countrymen and woman. Crying and begging for some kind of miracle that gives us the solution we actually already have, but are not yet willing to acknowledge, namely:
Giving it time!
Slowly we, the Dutch, will accept that something old and lovely will never come back again and could be replaced by something new and just as lovely, if we do it right! The way we are handling things now will probably leave too many in continues dismay. Sinterklaas survived for 1700 years and will last another 1700. But Black Piet is definitely in the danger zone.
So that’s what the fuzz is all about
Sinterklaas is still Sinterklaas and kids love him. Black Piet is still Black Piet (for now) and kids love him. Some of their parents don’t and therefor the colors of his skin are confusingly changing. So if you visit Holland at the beginning of december (no idea why you would wanna do that, since it’s very cold) and expecting to meet some Black Piets, don’t be surprised when they suddenly aren’t that dark-skinned anymore.
What’s that, Aussie? You wanne know what I think?
Well Aussie, I am an old guy now, but started as a wise little Dutchie. I figured out pretty fast that Sinterklaas wasn’t Sinterklaas and Black Piet was in fact my uncle or neighbor. However, that didn’t stop me from being bloody scared of Sinterklaas and thinking Black Piet was the most awesome guy in the whole world. I couldn’t care less about his skin color and had no idea what racism was.
Thank God I don’t have to be in the middle of the whole Piet-discussion. If I would, I would probably be one of those people who are totally being ignored by many. There are some Dutchies who, like me, understand that kids don’t care about the color of ones skin and are just too young to fully understand the whole concept of discrimination and racism. They just see an old white-bearded guy in a dress, who is supported by many young and funny people.
What about all those peeps with kids?
Well Aussie, I can’t speak for others, but as a parent I would know that racism and discrimination is something we are not born with, but taught by others. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t learn it from me, the school I choose or people I trust with my kids.
I would teach my kids to develop their own opinions and go with the flow, which is actually not very Dutch. However, since ‘Sinterklaas kids’ are still very young, it would be my responsibility to protect them against people who have very strong feelings in favor or against Black Piet. Especially those who feel the need to ventilate their ideas over and over again, even when kids are standing next to them.
I wouldn’t think about mentioning the skin-color of Black Piet, simply because I would know my kids don’t care about it. They may however ask me about all the different types of Black Piets or why Black Piet isn’t Black but green or rainbow-ish.
If that happens, I will answer with this question of my own: ‘Why do you think it is like that?’. And since my kids will be wise little Dutchies, I am sure they will think for a while and come up with an answer I can only reward with: ‘Excellent thinking!!’.
So there you go, Aussie, that’s it!
Now go get a pint or two and be happy! Forget about this Black Piet thing and let others figure it out. I will do the same when this whole Sinterklaas festival comes to an end the Piet discussion takes another Gap year. I left you some tips, in case you wanna check it out next year and head towards Holland during the Sinterklaas festival.
5 Things you should never do or say in Holland, especially not during Sinterklaas!
#1- Don’t ask what all the Black Piet fuzz is about
As you may have noticed, you will get a long, boring and complicated answer 🙂
There simply is no easy answer, so you will get bored with the very long, detailed, apologizing explanation. You will probably be asked ‘What do you think’ and end up in a discussion you really don’t want or worse: a huge fight that may halt any new friendships.
#2 – Don’t call anyone ‘black’
Seriously don’t. Not only in the Netherlands but in many western countries it’s considered as very offensive. Dutch people will probably correct you when you dare calling someone ‘black’ (even when no dark-skinned person is around!) Instead, use words like dark-skinned, dark, colored or better: don’t mention skin color at at!
#3 – Don’t talk about Dutch slavery
Some Dutchies are still very ashamed of what our forefathers did. Others couldn’t care less, since it’s hundreds of years in the future now. You never know who thinks what, so if you wanna be safe: don’t talk about it. Again: you will most likely be asked what your opinion is and because it’s (again) a complicated topic, your opinion will probably put you at the wrong side of the table.
#4 – Remember that the Dutch actually adore dark-skin
In many Asian countries, a light skin color is preferred over a more darker skin color. You can find facial whitening products in many Asian pharmacies and shops. Dutch people however love darkened-skin and often find it more appealing than their own plain white-colored skin.
#5 – We are not as tolerant as we may seem
When it comes to people with a different skin-color, different culture or different religion, Dutch people are very tolerant and also genuinely interested in you. However, we do have very strong feelings about
many, many, many topics everything!
Wanna smoke marihuana legally, fuck until you drop, drink till you die? Do whatever you like, as long as you don’t bother us with it and definitely DON”T ask what we think if you can’t handle the heat.
Dutch people are famous for being direct and outspoken. We have very strong opinions about basically everything you can possibly imagine. We, the Dutch, are more than happy to let you know exactly how we feel and think about something, no matter who you are or where your house lives.