Traditionally, In the Netherlands, we have no Santa, although nearly 50% of the population now exchange gifts for Christmas. Most of us, though, celebrate Sint Nicolaas, or Sinterklaas for short, on the 5th of December, the birthday of St. Nicholas. Sinterklaas is a very, very old bishop (about 1500 years old) living in Spain (the original St. Nicholas was a bishop* in Turkish Myra, which is somehow inexplicably linked with Spain, maybe because of the Mores). Every year, he comes over to the Netherlands on a fleet of steam boats (containing the presents, of course), landing in a different city every year, which is a nationally televised event.
Sinterklaas is accompanied by an army of black men, all of whose names are Piet (roughly pronounced Pete), who are his friends, not his servants (:rolleyes:)** Having arrived, Sinterklaas mounts his white horse Amerigo, and proceeds to ride all across the roofs of the Netherlands, tossing gifts down the chimney (he sends the Pieten down, which is why they’re black, or so some have it), leaving them in the shoes that the kids have left by the fireplace, with a drawing in it and some straw or a carrot for the horse. If the children are bad, Sinterklaas will leave a little bag of salt; in really bad cases, he’ll take the kids away with him back to Spain - why this is a punishment I never understood. The kids also sing a variety of Sinterklaas songs, as Sinterklaas sends the Pieten into the houses to bang loudly on the doors and toss a whole lot of candy from a big hemp bag all across the living room floor. Hence the song ‘hoor wie klopt daar, kinderen’ (hear who knocks there, children).
- in recent years, the Catholic content has become problematic and in some cases the miter that the bishop wears has the cross removed from it to make it look less Christian so as not to offend anyone, especially Muslim kids celebrating.
** much as we like to ignore it, Black Pete (zwarte Piet) is obviously a blatantly racist symbol: the white man has a whole number of ‘servants’ - as evinced by the song ‘Sinterklaasje, kom maar binnen met je knecht’ - ‘Sinterklaas, do enter with your servant’ - which serve as some sort of boogie man, taking bad kids away to some evil faraway land in a hemp bag (the one that only so recently contained gifts and candy for the good kids.
Recently an artists collective did a manifestation to ridicule this, and they were blasted by some on the right for undermining Dutch tradition in the face of islamisation and what have you. Still, not much resistance to the phenomenon exists that I am aware of, even among the black community in the Netherlands, so I’m in favor of letting it be, letting it serve as a reminder of how racist we used to be and how the slave trade made us rich - but if enough people start objecting we have to do something about it.