Culture, Sinterklaas

How To Piss off the Dutch*

Sinterklaas: the children’s December celebration is
under fire in the Netherlands

The best way to rile a Dutch person is to ask them why they need two Santa Clauses and suggest they scrap one, namely the white bearded one with those very questionable black helpers who arrives in the country on a boat from Spain in November. And to be honest I can understand why they are pretty pissed off at the moment.

My disbelief at what is currently hitting the news does not stem from the fact that there is once again a huge debate about Zwarte Piet, racism and slavery. The issue has been on the table for many years, there is open discussion in Dutch society about Zwarte Piet and questions have been raised many times over about whether the appearance should be altered, including from prominent Dutch figures. Traditions, in general, move with the times, things change and Zwarte Piet, I’m sure, will continue to change too.

What actually riles me about the discussion this year is that it is spearheaded by someone who seems to have very little understanding of the Dutch and what the celebration of Sinterklaas is about.  What riles me is the clumsy manner that a nation is told that their tradition is inferior to the Coca-Cola Santa that dominates the Christmas festivities of other countries, and that they should scrap their celebration on the 5th December. Verene Shepherd (UN representative) asked why the Netherlands needs two Santa Clauses. This is what pisses me off. Such a comment can only be made by somebody who is completely ignorant to the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, somebody who has not yet done their homework.

“Shepherd calls on prime Minister Mark Rutte to put an end to Sinterklaas. The prime minister has the power to influence the group that maintains this habit. If the Dutch government recognizes the Sinterklaas tradition is outdated, they should instruct the groups organizing it, to stop, according to Shepherd. And what is wrong with  one Sinterklaas? Why does The Netherlands have two?  Shepherd wondered in the program, referring to Santa Claus.” – NL Times

The reality is that the Netherlands does not have two Santa Clauses. It has one Sinterklaas. I am yet to meet a Dutch family that has Santa Claus or Father Christmas visit them on the 25 December. Any Santa Claus figure that makes an appearance at Christmas time is purely commercial and is in no way a Dutch tradition. The Santa Claus that countries such as Britain and America know and love is known as the Coca-Cola Santa here. 
If the Dutch weren’t already pissed off about being accused of being racist, the suggestion that they should stick with the Coca-Cola Santa Claus and do away with their own tradition certainly did the trick. Nothing like attacking a folk to get them heading to a Facebook page to express themselves at a rate of 100 likes per second….
*The title of this blog post is stolen from inspired by The Head of the Heard’s post How to Piss off a Brazilian.
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12 thoughts on “How To Piss off the Dutch*”

  1. Thanks, Amanda, for posting this. The Netherlands is not the only country where a Sinterklaas or Sankt Nikolaus is celebrated on the 5th or 6th of December and Father Christmas comes on the 24th or 25th of December: Germany, Switzerland and Austria celebrate them both. Does anyone bother about the hepers of their Sankt Nikolaus? No. And does anyone tell them to “stick only to one celebration”? No.

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  2. So it seems this intervention will probably have the opposite effect and make the Dutch even more appreciative of their own tradition.

    I can't really see what it has to do with anyone outside the country, to be honest.

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  3. Ute, indeed. This is just the start I think. At the moment the focus is on Belgium and the Netherlands… other countries will be next. Culture and tradition is not something you can ban…. it evolves.

    Stephen – it certainly seems to have triggered that sentiment. The Dutch didn't even get this upset about the King's song when he was crowned – they were up in arms and really didn't like that but the amount of likes on the FB page to ban that was minimal compared to this. 😉 Sinterklaas is a very special celebration and about as Dutch as you can get. Highly insulting to be told you should get rid of it….

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  4. Amanda, yes! You are totally right. In Poland, children also get gifts on the 6th and nobody cares…and, if you criticize a tradition, then you should at least know a little about it. The critic about Zwarte Piet may be understandable but it has to happen for the right reasons! And I agree with you, I think even he will change and go with the times! Thanks for writing this!

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  5. Being a Dutchman myself, I very much agree with this article.

    I am most pissed off because the Sinterklaas feast is the most beloved feast we have. A celebration with family and of tradition, warmth, surprises, poems, jokes and gifts. And there comes this complete stranger butting in (prejudiced and not hindered by any proper knowledge) demanding we abandon all of it in the name of the UN and a 'fight against racism'. Well she is welcome to stay away if she does not like it.

    Sinterklaas is not about racism. Saying that is very insulting. Again it shows the shortsightedness of a stranger without proper knowledge. Black Pete is not disrespected or humiliated. He is very popular. He is one of the honored guests from Spain with an important role in the feast. He is the one handing out candy and gifts to the children. Many many people want to dress up and play Black Pete. This is not at all something that teaches children to humiliate or disrespect black people.

    In my eyes this whole discussion is utterly ridiculous and should never have taken place. Unworthy of the UN, hurtful, insulting, unfairly accusing the Dutch of racism.

    In the end I believe this also damages the case of people with legitimate complaints about racism and it also takes away from the respect the Dutch have for the UN. So the UN would do well to apologize or clearly distinguish themselves from the utterances this woman has made in their name.

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  6. Being a Dutchman myself, I very much agree with this article.

    I am most pissed off because the Sinterklaas feast is the most beloved feast we have. A celebration with family and of tradition, warmth, surprises, poems, jokes and gifts. And there comes this complete stranger butting in (prejudiced and not hindered by any proper knowledge) demanding we abandon all of it in the name of the UN and a 'fight against racism'. Well she is welcome to stay away if she does not like it.

    Sinterklaas is not about racism. Saying that is very insulting. Again it shows the shortsightedness of a stranger without proper knowledge. Black Pete is not disrespected or humiliated. He is very popular. He is one of the honored guests from Spain with an important role in the feast. He is the one handing out candy and gifts to the children. Many many people want to dress up and play Black Pete. This is not at all something that teaches children to humiliate or disrespect black people.

    In my eyes this whole discussion is utterly ridiculous and should never have taken place. Unworthy of the UN, hurtful, insulting, unfairly accusing the Dutch of racism.

    In the end I believe this also damages the case of people with legitimate complaints about racism and it also takes away from the respect the Dutch have for the UN. So the UN would do well to apologize or clearly distinguish themselves from the utterances this woman has made in their name.

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  7. It's an interesting post to read.
    I ( as a Dutch citizen) have valued the celebration of Saint Nicholas' (Sinterklaas) and the “zwarte pieten” (literally translated: Black Pete as the name origins from Pieter (Peter).

    It's a tradition which has been held in The netherlands for over 150 years, not to mention other countries having their own (version sometimes) of the present bringing saint.

    Most people in The Netherlands will not even think about dismissing the national holiday.
    Some people are even working on trying to get it on the internation heritage list!

    The discussion about wether it'd be racism or not has been around for quite some time, and will remain for as long as people neglect any form of equality.
    (I think the darker people are offended because they FEEL let out/discriminated, not because they are directly discriminated)

    And as for the “reasons” why it should be banned. its all bogus in my opinion.
    if we are being racist by painting each other black and acting like a page & Child friend,
    We can start sueing african and australian tribes for painting themselves white… You don't see us taking offense in that, do you?

    I can't see how people can relate such a rather positive story to racism…

    It is said that Black pete was freed from slavery by the saint, was given clothes, a roof, food and sanctuary within the house of the saint.
    In return, he would help the saint distribute gifts to the people (children) who were good, and punish those who acted bad.

    Besides of being painted off like a boogeyman to bad-behaving children, in my experience, i was always more afraid of the saint, the status-figure for him deciding wether he'd put me in the bag and take me back to spain (if i were bad).

    Black petes' a childs' best friend.
    He's nice, He can climb and stunt, and he brings presents for all and is always happy.

    I'd like to see that people would just accept one anothers' cultures and traditions…

    You dont have to like it… but you dont have to participate either…

    you dont see us ban the holidays brought in by muslims or any other religion…

    You can discriminate by race, but also by religious standards… and like a maroccan friend once said:

    “You dutch are crazy for adepting so much. You all adept to everything and everyone, while we stand firm on our values and traditions.”

    Regards,

    Michiel

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  8. all well and good, til you see white middle class dutch children call a Nigerian boy Zwarte Piet in a way that was very much meant as an insult. I saw this with my own eyes last Wednesday.

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  9. The debate certainly is valid – there is no argument there from me. Things are shifting – but the suggestion of an outright ban of all things Sinterklaas made in ignorance is not the answer either. There's a way forward and dictating from the UN isn't it. Thank you for sharing the very real arguments for change.

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