Changing tradition: Sinterklaas

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Changing tradition: Sinterklaas

Having been born and raised in the Netherlands, the tradition of Sinterklaas seemed to go hand in hand with our upbringing as kids. Sinterklaas (or St. Nicholas) arrives on his steamboat from Spain sometime during November and goes around to meet the children and see if they have been good or not. Kids that make it to his “good” list will anxiously await their gifts on December 5th, where the naughty kids will get coal in their wooden shoes. Sounds somewhat similar to Santa Claus, right? Yes, both traditions seem to emulate the same principles and culture.

However, where Santa has his helping elfs, St. Nicholas’ help comes from “Zwarte Piet” or black Peter. Throughout history, the tail has evolved from black Peter being an enslaved helper into becoming a mystical side-kick whose face is black due to the chimney slides he makes for delivering presents to the kids. People celebrate this throughout the entire country and thousands of kids dress up like black Pete running through the streets for the parades.

With societal norms ever-changing, this tradition became criticized by the Dutch black population. Strong protests have been going on, successfully addressing the issue of black Pete’s significant history. What seemed to be a deep-rooted tradition has now become questioned ethically.

It is fascinating to see the power of the people. Movement of society is in the hands of society itself! We as a whole can move towards a better culture by standing together and supporting a cause for the betterment of the people. Yes, there were conservative forces who did not want to give up their age-old tradition of black Pete. But where more people fought for a progressive movement, this was changed for the good of everyone. Marketing has pushed a new and diverse image of St. Nicholas’ helpers by giving them different colors. We now have a tradition that in essence remained the same, but “updated” to today’s ethical standards. With stroopwafel and green Pete’s running around during the festivities each December, kids will not be disappointed in us moving closer together as a society but rather inspired by how we can include everyone. (Which they will most likely learn later on in life anyway)

Cody Bonsma

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