The Netherlands continues to face pressure over a Christmas tradition more than 200 years old. The Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet or Black Pete continued without protest or notice until two years ago when a Jamaican UN observer took offense at the practice of white celebrants in black face and dressed as the character who serves as a kindly foil to the strict version of the Dutch Santa Claus. Now the Dutch government has to regularly answer to the UN for what they are doing about it.
In the first UN meetings about the issue since last Christmas the Dutch government this week made a commitment to “change” the character of Zwarte Piet but not to eliminate him.
The government is riding a fine line between satisfying citizens — who love the character and tradition — and complying with the demands of the United Nations.
The Dutch government actually took steps last year to institute change in how Zwarte Piet is perceived. Last year the parade was flooded with individuals, both male and female, depicting the sidekick of Sinterklaas in natural skin tones or in faces painted in all kinds of colors with vivid variations in Black Pete’s costuming.
Traditionalists were critical of the changes and critics were NOT appeased.
Since Christmas 2013 this has been a major issue in the Netherlands. As outside forces driven by the United Nations claim the tradition is racist stubborn Dutch traditionalists say the cultural icon of Zwarte Piet is loving and misunderstood.
The debate raged to new levels last November during the traditional parade opening the holiday season when Saint Nicholas and Black Pete make their traditional entrance.
Hundreds of parade-goers — dressed as Black Pete — clashed with out-of-the-country protesters who created a scene while being arrested. These confrontations happened in front of children and families.