Saint Nicolas has arrived in Amsterdam heralding the start of the Dutch celebrations for Christmas. As always since the mid 1800’s he was surrounded by his helpers – Zwarte Pieten – Black Peter. According to tradition they carry a book full of names of the, “naughty” children and also hand out sweets.
The presence of the fictional character in the celebrations has sparked a growing row with accusations of racism led by one activist, Quinsy Gario who last year was arrested for protesting without permission.
“When this tradition was started the general idea was that black people were worth less than those who were white. We are now in 2012 and we have to admit those ideas from those times don’t apply to now,” he said.
Saint Nicolas or Sinterklass as the Dutch call him has been celebrated for many centuries, the Black Peter character was only introduced in 1850 when slavery still existed.
“We are sure that Amsterdam is a very multi-cultural city and you can’t really blame us for racism,” said one person who joined the crowd to welcome Saint Nicolas while another added, “When I was a teenager, I had the impression the tradition was racist, but now I don’t think so. Zwarte Pieten are ‘black’ because they get dirty climbing down chimneys.”
That’s a theory which doesn’t wash with many. The number of complaints which the regional Anti-Discrimination Bureau receive about Black Pete has soared from one or two to more than a hundred.