Happy Sinterklaas!

Because most readers of this blog live on the other side of the ocean, I like to give some peeks in the Dutch culture (not that it’s very different from other national cultures).

Today the Dutch celebrate one of their most popular feasts; st. Nicolas or “Sinterklaas“. It’s like x-mas in the rest of the world. People come together and give presents.

The feast is celebrated different today.

Over the last years there has been a lot of controversy about the saints’ helper: Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). His looks can trigger associations with racism and the history of slavery (the Dutch were very active in the slave trade). While originally not intended so (the modern

St. Nicolas, after 15th century Russian original. (Yes I also paint icons, it's a nice hobby).

St. Nicolas, after 15th century Russian original. (Yes I also paint icons, it’s a nice hobby).

Sinterklaas tradition was invented in the 19th century by Amsterdam schoolmaster Jan Schenkman, who was opposed to slavery), there are some elements that can be offensive. Some people call for change, while others resist and want to set the tradition in stone.

An unfortunate side effect of the discussion is that it gets very ugly. Some people use it as an excuse to sprout racism. While it’s ok to disagree, I don’t think it’s necessary to get offensive. I am one of the few Dutch who thinks change is needed to let the tradition survive. A tradition that doesn’t change isn’t a tradition but a dogma…

All of this has little or nothing to do with the original saint. The patron saint of children, unmarried woman, sailors, students, butchers, thieves, lovers, prostitutes, chemists and bowyers.

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