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There is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
And clouds like sheep
Stream o'er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

November by Walter de la Mare
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Sinterklaas and Black Pete

These days the children in our country are very excited. It’s only a few days to be waiting for them. On December 5th we celebrate Sinterklaas in Holland. Sinterklaas is a old noble bishop with a white beard, allegedly coming with a steam boat out of Spain every year. He seems to be a very rich man because he gives presents to all the children. Therefore the children put their shoes near the fireplace. And than in the night Sinterklaas walks with his white horse on the roofs of the houses to listen to the songs of the children. If the children have been nice (and of cause they all have been), Sinterklaas sends one of his helpers – the Black Pete’s – down the chimney to deliver the presents.

Sinterklaas looks a bit like Santa Claus. And actually Santa Claus happens to be a heritage of Sinterklaas. When I was a small boy I really believed in Sinterklaas and Black Pete. I was a little bit afraid of Black Pete; Indeed he was a very severe figure. This picture has changed and now, in the last few decades, Black Pete developed the more kind side of his personality.

Lately a discussion about the Black Pete figure has started in our country. Some people think it’s a kind of discrimination to paint white faces black. There has been investigated what Dutch people think about it. At this moment 95% of the people want to keep the Black Pete just as he is now. They say it’s a tradition and it’s just a children’s party. Actually there’s nothing discriminating about it, they say. Black Pete gets a lot of support on the social media here. There is a Facebook page about it that received more than 2.000.000 likes. And that is very much for a small country like Holland. I think that might have to do with what we are grown up with. The Black Pete figure exists for ages and is woven into our genes.

This year a few alternatives where presented on television, like a Clown Pete, a Cheese Pete (Yellow) and a ‘Syrup Waffle’ Pete (light brown). But most Dutch people where not so enthusiast about this performance. Actually in most of the Dutch towns nothing changed during the festivities. Black Pete just stayed black almost everywhere. Here you can watch a Black Pete Showband at the festivities in our town last week.



I’m curious what you think about a traditional celebration like this. Do you have an event like this in your country? How do you celebrate that? Do you also have a figure like Sinterklaas in your culture? What does he look like and what does he do? And what do you think about the Black Pete (instead of Santa Clause’s Elves). Do you think this is a kind of discrimination?

Comments

  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 28,081 mod
    I'm all for Black Pete. I think some of these old traditions are in danger of being lost in the name of political correctness.
  • LynneLynne Your Teacher HomePosts: 9,585 mod
    edited December 2014
    In Germany St Nicholas Tag is on 6th December. I don't know what hubby will do this year, as his boss is in the US, and so I doubt there'll be a packet of biscuits on everyone's desk.

    With regards to Black Peter, I got into trouble once when I joined the "ladies who lunch", the equivalent to the WI in Germany. I was invited to speak about British Christmas traditions. I started causing trouble when I told them that many of our traditions were brought over from Germany, which for some reason they didn't like. Then when a lady from the Netherlands finished her presentation, I asked about Black Peter. She nearly hit the roof. "We do not celebrate this," she cried. "I have never heard of Black Peter." Suffice to say, I was not asked to join their illustrious circle. Sigh.

    BTW - I thought Black Peter was a chimney sweep, so maybe people should just rub soot on their face, instead of doing the whole black and white minstrel thing: The Black and White minstrels, were yet another PC victim (thank goodness), bit even poor Othello is not immune from these ideas.
  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 28,081 mod
    Too many Brits here in the Kathmandu Ladies Who Lunch (aka the Cultural Society) to have caused you any grief. But why were the German ladies so offended that their wonderful traditions could have invaded Britain @Lynne? I would have thought they should have been proud.

    I seem to recall as a small kid having to endure sitting in front of the B&W Minstrels because it was seen as 'good for me.' To this day I still can't quite work out the logic. Maybe it was because back in those 'olden' days, where I lived there were so few negro faces around that it was thought a good idea so I shouldn't be afraid if I saw a person with coloured skin. I still have my Golly.
  • amatsuscribbleramatsuscribbler Posts: 2,223 mod
    I remember the black and white minstrels too. I could not understand why they didn't use real black people!
    Like Lynne I also wondered if he was Black Pete because of the soot. I think cultures change, generally for the better, so I wonder if the black people in Holland have been asked specifically for their opinion?
    Tradition is not necessarily a good thing. It's 'traditional' for some cultures to do all sorts of things that are not always ethical or moral. Otherwise we would still be drowning witches in Britain and women wouldn't have the vote etc etc!
    PS @mheredge‌ - I am so jealous! I always wanted a golly but we couldn't afford that marmalade!
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    I suppose that if the lady you were speaking with really came out of Holland, she should have known who Black Pete is @Lynne. Maybe she didn’t know the English name, but I’m sure that if you had said ‘Zwarte Piet’, she’d know of whom you were talking about.

    Black Pete actually is not a chimney weeper. The figure does not only have a black face, but he also has black curly hair and red lips. Some people in Holland say that he’s black because of the chimney. But that’s more of an explanation against people who say it’s a racistic performance that reminds them of the era of slavery. In fact in history most likely Black Pete was a moor.

    Sinterklaas didn’t come from Spain but was born in a Turkish town called Myra. From there he travelled the world and actually freed mores from slavery and treated them humanly. After his death on December 6 he left a fortune to poor people. Now we celebrate the birth of Sinterklaas on December 5th, but actually it’s the celebration of his inheritance at December 6th.

    Some people now indeed only just rub soot on their face, but that’s frowned upon by real Black Pete-lovers. They say that’s not enough because children then would recognise the person who is dressed up like a Pete. Here you can read an article about the history of Sinterklaas and Black Pete.

    http://www.historyextra.com/feature/christmas-controversy

    Internationally Pete is depicted more and more as a controversial figure. In Holland the discussion goes on. In Belgium on the other hand this is not yet a topical item. They want to keep Black Pete just as he always has been. What do you know about this @april?
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    I agree with you @mheredge that these old traditions are in danger of being lost in the name of political correctness. I think this Dutch tradition indeed will be lost I a couple of years. This year in many towns nothing has changed, but on the national television some changes are taking place. There is a lot of commotion around the Black Pete figure. On the day Sinterklaas arrived in our country there were big demonstrations by anti-Black-Pete protesters. They demonstrated in the middle of parents and their children who came to see Sinterklaas and Black Pete. Police forces were trying to drive them apart, so fights were starting between the police and demonstrators. A lot of Dutch people ask themselves why this is necessary this way. They just want to celebrate a children's festival quietly. They are not against demonstrations, but the also don't want to be disturbed when the festivities for their children take place.

    The BBC made a report about this event you can watch at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30069240 If you watch the film with the rapport you can see how awful people can behave. That is really astonishing. Actually I don’t agree with everything the BBC sais in this report. When they say: Many in the Netherlands see Black Pete as a racial stereotype, but others say the tradition is not linked to race. it seems to be that that most Dutch people are against the Pete-figure. Actually that’s just the other way around.

    They also write: Earlier this year, Amsterdam's regional court said the image of Black Pete "with his thick red lips, being a stupid servant, gives rise to a negative stereotyping of black people". The court ordered Amsterdam's authorities to review the festival. But they don’t mention (probably because they don’t know) that the High Council rejected this verdict later this year.

    You can also read this article about it:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24979498
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    edited December 2014
    Maybe the black and white minstrels were painted for not being recognised as individual persons @amatsuscribbler. When somebody’s identity is hidden, he/she becomes mysterious and therefore interesting. The pop-group Kiss gained a lot of popularity by painting their faces and not revealing their identity. The reason that Black Pete’s paint their face is also meant for not being recognised. The man on the photo you can see above, is actually black himself, but painted his face anyway. The people who knew him, did not recognise him at all.
  • aprilapril Moderator Posts: 10,373 mod
    Sinterklaas arrived in Antwerp a couple weeks ago, @lichaamstaal‌.
    There was a little manifestation, but without any struggle.
    Personally, I am with those people in Gouda who introduced different colours of Pete.
    It was more colorful and funnier and did not specifically spot black people.
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    This way Gouda had to make Pete (not Black Pete anymore) more acceptable among people from different backgrounds @april. This was a good idea. But that wasn't satisfactory for both camps of fanatics. Actually there were just a few different colour Petes in Gouda. Most of them where still black. I think it will take some time before the black colour vanishes. The children didn't have any problem with the colour of the Petes. They just enjoyed the festivities. And that’s the most important.

    Do you also know a Sinterklaas-like figure in Ukraine @Bobmendez? I believe Russia has a type like that and Croatia, Serbia and Montenegrin also have: Djed Božićnjak. Isn’t it @komi?
  • komikomi Posts: 421 ✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    Yes it is @lichaamstaal‌ .
  • BobmendezBobmendez Posts: 392 ✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    On December 19th we celebrate St Nicholas Day in Ukraine. As far as I know He don't need any helpers to deliver the presents. :)
    St Nicholas
    @lichaamstaal, I think the Black Pete’s problem is very serious. The skin colour difference (like any other difference) is often used by the politicians. Divide and conquer!!! They can easily unleash a conflict. This also makes your country vulnerable to external aggression in the hybrid war. This has happened in Ukraine.
    First they started talking about the oppression of Russian speaking people then they came to "defend" them. Terror, blood and occupation! It seemed impossible, but it happened...
    So, I really understand why Black Pete became Yellow

    ------------------------

    On December 19th we will celebrate St Nicholas Day in Ukraine. As far as I know, he doesn't need any helpers to deliver the presents. :)
    St Nicholas
    @lichaamstaal, I think the problem of Black Pete is very serious. The skin colour difference (like any other difference) is often used by the politicians. Divide and conquer!!! They can easily unleash a conflict. This also makes your country vulnerable to external aggression in the hybrid war. This has happened in Ukraine.
    First they started talking about the oppression of Russian speaking people then they came to "defend" them. Terror, blood and occupation! It seemed impossible, but it happened...
    So, I really understand why Black Pete became Yellow.
    Post edited by Lynne on
  • BobmendezBobmendez Posts: 392 ✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    Basically, small concerts are held at schools on St Nicholas Day but not everywhere, I think. Don't forget that religion was condemned in the USSR. First time I knew St Nicholas when I was 16. I got my presents in New Year's Eve usually, and they were brought by Father Frost.
  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 28,081 mod
    So far no sign of Christmas here...
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    edited December 2014
    This sounds (and looks) like a nice festival @Bobmendez. Does Father Frost also lives on the North Pole like Santa Claus? I suppose he must be living at a cold place in order not to unfreeze.
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    This one is special for you @mheredge (to give you the Christmas vibe).

    imageimageimageimageimageimage
  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 28,081 mod
    Aw thanks @lichaamstaal‌. Next weekend I shall look out for some sign of Christmas if I visit the lonely little old British church up at Mcleodganj.
  • FrankFrank Moderator Posts: 6,067 mod
    That's nice @mheredge. I'll be waiting curiously.
  • LynneLynne Your Teacher HomePosts: 9,585 mod
    Don't forget you will be able to follow Santa Claus via Norad.

    http://www.noradsanta.org/
  • GemmaRowlandsGemmaRowlands Moderator Posts: 5,727 mod
    I have enjoyed reading through this thread, because I love thinking about the norms and traditions of other cultures. It is great and interesting to see how similar some of the stories can be, without all being exactly the same. So children growing up in one country will have completely different excitements to others, but all with the same type of undertone to them. When I first moved to the UK it was great to see how different the tradition of Christmas is to my home town in France. I have fully embraced it!
  • PaulettePaulette Posts: 7,321 ✭✭✭✭✭
    For me is to celebrate Sinterklaas a wonderful celebrating because the children then be the most important people of the day. And if a child is happy, then I feel well.
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