‘It’s not even November and already the Christmas lights are out’, you think to yourself. Disgusted at the prematurity of the joyous music and the bountiful isles of chocolates within the shop, you trudge over to the checkout. The gloomy Dutch weather has infected your expressions, and you give the till-lady a stormy glare as she asks for your bonus card, before hastily swiping her own. You glance up at a sign swinging above the exit: ah, Santa. And, look, he’s got an…wait…is that Billy Rice?! What the face?
Actually, it’s Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete in English, who’s a helper (can you sense the restraint in my wording?) to Sinterklaas during the Dutch Christmas holiday. Both Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet jut up in a boat from Spain in November and and literally take over Groningen for the following weeks until the 5th of December, when they go home again. So, in a month’s time, you’ll get used to (or not) dropping bricks as you walk around town, desperately avoiding Pete’s mischievousness.
But, com’on: what better way to spread Christmas cheer than to have Sinterklaas unleash fully-grown men in colourful spandex and inappropriate blackface, who then proceed to abuse the public with their sweet-throwing?
And, apparently, dressing up as Zwarte Piet means you can legally throw rocks at children. Genuinely. Kruidnoten (a dog treat disguised as a gingerbread biscuit) is so solid that you can hear children crying before you can actually see Piet running around like an offensive headless chicken.
As many of you will have read or heard, Zwarte Piet is a contentious issue, and an enormous amount of controversy surrounds the character’s depiction during the Christmas holidays… which reminds me to remind you to read my opinion piece on Zwarte Piet’s tradition here:
By the time you read it, I will have left the country, so if you want to contact me, send a letter to Alaska.