We are in the middle of Sinterklaas season here at the moment. He arrives the first Saturday after the 11th November and is here til the 5th Dec – this year as the 11th November was a Friday he’s here for the longest possible. So every shop window has some sort of decoration with the Sint and his helpers, or Piets.
I haven’t written anything previous years as all the blacked up people made me so uncomfortable, and yet the Dutch treat it as entirely normal. Though it’s going to change as the Children’s ombudsman has this year said that the black Piets can cause discrimination for children and that it should be phased out.
And it is changing, though slowly and with much wailing and nashing of teeth. Our local bakery does superb window displays all through the year, and their Sinterklaas centerpiece cake has one “chimney” Piet – with black soot marks from coming down the chimney. This is such a step forward! Amsterdam banned blacked up Piets from their official celebrations this year and the TV shows have a lot fewer blackface characters this year, especially major characters, in their shows.
There are many protests on both sides of the debate, along with death threats and violence. Many of the supporters of the “traditional” Piets is that it’s just a children’s celebration and shouldn’t be taken in that way. But that doesn’t stop children associating coloured people with Piets and calling them that. I know as mine have done it and I’m mortified. So hopefully this will change over the next few years as Piet becomes just another character and not just black – Belgium and Germany where Sinterklaas is also celebrated have already made this change and here it is overdue.
One benefit of the Sinterklaas shenanigans in that it does mean Christmas doesn’t start til after Sinterklaas has left. And I quite like the idea of splitting apart the presents and children’s party for Sinterklaas and the religious ceremony and family celebrations for Christmas. Of course we end up doing presents for both so with those celebrations and two winter birthdays for the children we get an overload of presents in these two months.
Now, I still have Sinterklaas poems to write about the family by Monday to be delivered in the bag of presents from Sinterklaas…