Let’s get political and talk about a Dutch tradition known as Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet.
Sinterklaas is an old Dutch tradition in which an old saint shows up and gives gifts to kids. He is aided by his helpers known as Zwarte Pieten. You’ll note Iot translating their names into English.
When I was a kid this tradition was fairly normal. Sinterklaas would go around leaving large bags of gifts for children. Originally his helpers went down chimneys and across roofs to leave the gifts. Personally, given the fact that Sinterklaas was like 600 years old and his helpers apparently fit through modern chimneys, I always assumed his helpers were of a magical nature.
It should also be noted that I’ve known people of Surinamic descent, who have a dark skin color, dress up as Zwarte Piet and entertain children.
Recently in the media some people have gotten all huffy about the ‘implication’ that the Zwarte Pieten was actually slaves, or inspired by slaves. This is of course bad since we are required to be politically correct about everything and nothing must be offensive to anyone. Soon you will be able to pick up your government sanctioned grey outfits.
I can understand that American looking at this tradition can be somewhat uncomfortable. But can I then point to the swastika? A symbol that in many Asian cultures means something entirely different than what it means in the western world. Yet no one is getting huffy about it.
Here’s the thing, yes the Dutch were involved in slave trades during the colonial period, not something we’re proud of. But in our country, which I know is hypocritical, owning slaves wasn’t done since the middle ages.
Most of the information regarding the holiday itself are a bit muddles and ambiguous. The saint it was based on existed and is better known as Saint Nicholas of Myra. All sorts of myth and legend go around about him. At some point a story even went around that he actually bought slaves but then released them and hired them as full paid workers, though I haven’t been able to find anything about that being true.
Did the origin of Zwarte Piet start as slaves? We really don’t know there’s no clear indication either way.
Are they meant to be a depiction of slaves today? Absolutely not. They are always referred to as his helpers and all media expressions put the relationship between them and Sinterklaas as being mutually beneficial.
One company decided to change their media campaign by replacing Zwarte Piet with a white boy in similar clothing. Because your roman catholic holy men and children go well together, and child labor isn’t a problem either.
See what I mean about not offending anyone?