If I had a column in the Delft op Zondag

(Not the real)
Delft op Zondag


26 NOV 2017

DELFT - I read in the Dutch news that people have been blocking highways to protest protests against racism, which is seen in Santa's helper, a young kid with dark skin in service to a white man. Santa himself is described as a Catholic bishop from Spain. No one is bothered that he is not Reform.

The Santa and helper who visit all Dutch towns in late November are fictional. The man is Spanish, and his servant is Moorish. As the story is made-up, details are made-up. Moorish people are usually dark, and the boy goes down chimneys getting sooty; thus, the helper was called Black Pete. The bishop is white, old and silver-haired; he rides a white horse by tradition. Since the story started, conditions have changed. Spain no longer rules the Netherlands nor in North Africa.

Fiction for Children


Saturday, Santa Claus came to Delft. The last few years, he was on a boat proceeded by Black Pete's on water skis. The day felt cold, looked like rain and everyone with a child under six was out to wave as the parade sailed by. In Holland, the bringer of gifts is called Sinterklaas and his helper is Zwarte Piet.

Folks here did not think much of her way of making a point and resented being called racist. Debate started which is now at a stage where defenders of Dutch Heritage rally against the public. They make the news. Stores whiten their posters for Christmas shoppers because they do not wish to offend. Cities ease back from making any comment at all on the slave-ness of Santa's helper.

It is not far enough for those who demand a society more evolved than the one they are living in and too far for those who like things as they have always been. We seem to all agree that if Zwarte Piet was a real person and living today, he would be paid for his annual work, have full medical coverage while he did so, and likely be a Moroccan national on a work visa.

In our extended family, there is still one child who does not know yet that Sinterklaas is just a time for historical dress-up and gifts. So, they all went to watch, and no one older spoiled it for the children. Besides, it is fun.

Sinterklaas arrived in an antique car where they live. Each location works out just how the old man is going to get around. When I was first in Delft, he rode a white horse through town surrounded by many Zwarte Piet's.

Their job is to toss candy to the crowds and run around making noise. Children and teenagers merrily take up these roles each year. Their costumes make a dim, end-of-year day seem bright and jolly.

A few years ago, a UN agency sent someone to lecture the Dutch. She said Zwarte Piet was a slave and the whole nonsense was racist. Some people descended from Dutch colonial days took up the accusation.

Meanwhile, my partner is baking. It is a time of split-pea soup with 'worst' and Irish Coffee's at the Engel. Raise a glass to those who fought Islamic State, those who rescue migrants and those who feed the hungry.

G. Wiley / NLStrabo - © Copyright - All rights reserved - gwileynl@gmail.com
In memory of Herb Caen