ZWARTE PIET (pronounced ; English: BLACK PETE or BLACK PETER,
Luxembourgish: Schwaarze Péiter, Indonesian : Pit Hitam) is the
Saint Nicholas (Dutch :
Sinterklaas , Luxembourgish :
Kleeschen, Indonesian : Sinterklas) in the folklore of the Low
Countries . The character first appeared in an 1850 book by Amsterdam
Jan Schenkman , and is commonly depicted as a blackamoor
Zwarte Piet is said to be black because he is a Moor
from Spain. Those portraying
Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface
make-up and colourful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs,
red lipstick, and earrings. In recent years, the character has become
the subject of controversy, especially in the Netherlands.
* 1 Traditions
* 2 History
* 2.1 Origins
* 2.2 Development and depiction in the 19th and 20th Centuries
* 2.3 Late 20th and 21st century
* 3 See also
* 4 References
* 5 External links
Zwarte Piet character is part of the annual feast of St.
Nicholas, celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond,
that is, St. Nicholas' Eve) in the Netherlands, Aruba, and Curaçao,
and on 6 December in Belgium and Luxembourg, when presents and
accompanying sweets are distributed to children. The characters of
Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas's feast,
first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the
country (generally by boat, having traveled from
Madrid , Spain). The
tasks of the Zwarte Pieten are mostly to amuse children, and to
scatter kruidnoten , pepernoten , and Strooigoed (special Sinterklaas
sweets) for those who come to meet the saint as he visits schools,
stores, and other places.
Strooigoed and kruidnoten mix for scattering
According to Hélène Adeline Guerber and others, the origin of
Sinterklaas and his helpers has been linked by some to the Wild Hunt
Odin . Riding the white horse
Sleipnir he flew through the air as
the leader of the
Wild Hunt . He was always accompanied by two black
Huginn and Muninn
Huginn and Muninn . These helpers would listen, just like
Zwarte Piet, at the chimney, which was just a hole in the roof at that
time, to tell
Odin about the good and bad behavior of the mortals
Due to its speculative character, however, this older "Germanic
theory" has little support among present-day scholars, although it
continues to be popular in non-scholarly sources. At the same time, it
seems clear that the
Saint Nicholas tradition contains a number of
elements that are not ecclesiastical in origin. Illustration
from Jan Schenkman's book Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht
In medieval iconography,
Saint Nicholas is sometimes presented as
taming a chained devil, who may or may not be black. Although no hint
of a companion, devil, servant, or any other human or human-like fixed
companion to the Saint is found in visual and textual sources from the
Netherlands from the 16th until the 19th century, According to a
long-standing theory first proposed by Karl Meisen,
Zwarte Piet and
his equivalents in Germanic Europe originally represented such an
enslaved devil, forced to assist his captor. This chained and
fire-scorched devil may have re-emerged as a black human in the early
19th-century Netherlands, in the likeness of a Moor and as a servant
of Saint Nicholas. A devil as a helper of the saint can still be
found in the Austrian
Saint Nicholas tradition, in the character of
The introduction of
Zwarte Piet did coincide, by and large, with a
change in the attitude of the already existing
who had been quite severe towards bad children himself, and had in
fact often been presented as a bogeyman when he was still a solitary
character; moreover, some of the same terrifying characteristics that
were later associated with his servant
Zwarte Piet were often
Saint Nicholas himself. The depiction of a holy man in
this light was troubling to both teachers and priests. Some time after
the introduction of
Zwarte Piet as Sinterklaas' servant, both
characters adopted a softer character.
The lyrics of older traditional
Sinterklaas songs, still sung today,
warn that while
Sinterklaas and his assistant will leave well-behaved
children presents, they will punish those who have been very naughty.
For example, they will take bad children and carry these children off
in a burlap sack to their homeland of Spain, where, according to
Sinterklaas and his helper dwell out of season. These songs
and stories also warn that a child who has been only slightly naughty
will not get a present, but a "roe", which is a bundle of birch twigs,
implying that they could have gotten a birching instead, or they will
simply receive a lump of coal instead of gifts.
DEVELOPMENT AND DEPICTION IN THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES
In 1850, Amsterdam-based primary school teacher Jan Schenkman
published the book Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht ("
Saint Nicholas and
his Servant"), the first time that a servant character is introduced
in a printed version of the
Saint Nicholas narrative. The servant is
depicted as a page , who appears as a dark person wearing clothes
Moors . The book also established another mythos that
would become standard: the intocht or "entry" ceremony of Saint
Nicholas and his servant (then still nameless) involving a steamboat.
Schenkman has the two characters arrive from
Spain , with no reference
made to Nicholas' historical see of
Lycia , modern-day
In the 1850 version of Schenkman's book, the servant is depicted in
simple white clothing with red piping. Starting with the second
edition in 1858, the page is shown in a much more colorful page
costume reminiscent of the Spanish fashion of earlier days, looking
much the same as he does at present.
The book stayed in print until 1950 and has had considerable
influence on the current celebration. Although in Schenkman's book
the servant was nameless,
Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm
Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm already made
reference to a dialogue partner of
Saint Nicholas with the name
"Pieter-me-knecht" in a handwritten note to E.J. Potgieter in 1850.
Moreover, writing in 1884, Alberdingk Thijm remembered that in 1828,
as a child, he had attended a
Saint Nicholas celebration in the house
of Dominico Arata, an Italian merchant and consul living in Amsterdam.
On this occasion
Saint Nicholas had been accompanied by "Pieter me
Knecht ..., a frizzy haired Negro", who, rather than a rod, wore a
large basket filled with presents.
In 1833, an Amsterdam-based magazine made humorous reference to
"Pietermanknecht" in describing the fate that those who had sneaked
out of their houses to attend that year's St. Nicholas celebrations
were supposed to have met upon their return home. In 1859, Dutch
newspaper De Tijd noticed that
Saint Nicholas nowadays was often
accompanied by "a Negro, who, under the name of Pieter, mijn knecht,
is no less popular than the Holy Bishop himself". In the 1891 book
Het Feest van Sinterklaas, the servant is named Pieter. Until 1920
there were several books giving him other names, and in
contemporaneous appearances the name and looks still varied
According to a story from the Legenda Aurea , retold by Eelco Verwijs
in his monograph
Sinterklaas (1863), one of the miraculous deeds
Saint Nicholas after his death consisted of freeing a boy
from slavery at the court of the "Emperor of Babylon" and delivering
him back to his parents. No mention is made of the boy's skin colour.
However, in the course of the 20th century, narratives started to
surface in which
Zwarte Piet was considered a former slave who had
been freed by the Saint and subsequently had become his lifelong
According to another popular explanation that came to prominence in
the later decades of the 20th century,
Zwarte Piet is a Spaniard, or
an Italian chimney sweep, whose blackness is due to a permanent layer
of soot on his body, acquired during his many trips through the
LATE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURY
Josephine Baker meeting
Zwarte Piet (V"> Head
Piet carrying the Boek van
Sinterklaas on the way from the Steamboat
to the City Hall, where they will be officially welcomed by the City
Due to the character's depiction, which typically involves actors and
volunteers covering their skin in black makeup, wearing black wigs and
large earrings, the traditions surrounding
Zwarte Piet became
increasingly controversial beginning in the late 20th century. Though
a large majority of the overall populace in both the Netherlands and
Belgium is in favor of retaining the traditional Zwarte Piet
character, studies have shown that the perception of Zwarte Piet
can differ greatly among different ethnic backgrounds, age groups and
regions. Outside of the Netherlands, the character has received
criticism from a wide variety of international publications and news
organizations. Among others, American essayist
David Sedaris has
written about the tradition. and British comedian
Russell Brand has
spoken negatively of it, the latter dubbing
Zwarte Piet "a colonial
hangover." Demonstrators at an anti-
Zwarte Piet protest in
Amsterdam in November 2013 A golden-skinned Piet from the 2015
Nevertheless, according to a 2013 survey, upwards of 90% of the Dutch
public don't perceive
Zwarte Piet to be a racist character or
associate him with slavery and are opposed to altering the character's
appearance. This correlates to a 2015 study among Dutch children aged
3–7 which showed that they perceive
Zwarte Piet to be a fantastical
clownish figure rather than a black person. However, the number of
Dutch people who are willing to change certain details of the
character (for example its lips and hair) is reported to be growing.
Opposition to the figure is mostly found in the most urbanized
provinces of North- and
South Holland , where between 9% and 7% of the
populace wants to change the appearance of Zwarte Piet. In
most opposition towards the character is found among the Ghanaian ,
Antillean and Dutch-Surinamese communities, with 50% of the Surinamese
considering the figure to be discriminatory to others, whereas 27%
consider the figure to be discriminatory towards themselves. The
predominance of the Dutch black community among those who oppose the
Zwarte Piet character is also visible among the main anti-Zwarte Piet
Zwarte Piet Niet and
Zwarte Piet is Racisme which have
established themselves since the 2010s. Generally, adherents of these
Zwarte Piet to be part of the Dutch colonial heritage,
in which black people were subservient to whites and/or are opposed to
what they consider stereotypical black ("
Black Sambo ") features of
the figure, such as bright red lips, curly hair and large golden
The public debate surrounding the figure can be described as
polarized, with some protesters considering the figure to be an insult
to their ancestry and supporters considering the character to be an
inseparable part of their cultural heritage. Recent years have seen a
number of incidents in which anti-
Zwarte Piet demonstrators have been
arrested by the police for disturbing the peace , as well as threats
being made towards prominent figures in the anti-
Zwarte Piet movement
by supporters of the character.
Meanwhile, schools and businesses across the Netherlands have begun
changing Zwarte Piet's clothing and makeup or phasing the character
out entirely. In 2015, the Bijenkorf department store chain opted to
replace holiday displays featuring
Zwarte Piet with a golden-skinned
version instead. Elsewhere, one in three Dutch primary schools
announced plans to alter the character's appearance in their
celebrations. Nickelodeon in the Netherlands also decided to use a
racially-mixed group of actors to portray Piet in their holiday
broadcasts instead of people in blackface.
RTL Nederland made a
similar decision in the autumn of 2016 and replaced the character with
actors with soot on their faces.
* ^ Forbes, Bruce David (2007). Christmas: A Candid History.
University of California Press.
* ^ A B Emma Thomas (24 October 2013). "Outrage in Netherlands over
calls to abolish \'Black Pete\' clowns which march in
dressed in blackface". Daily Mail. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
* ^ A B Felicity Morse. "Zwarte Piet: Opposition Grows To \'Racist
Black Pete\' Dutch Tradition". UK: Huffington Post. Retrieved 27
* ^ "
Sinterklaas traditions in the Netherlands".
* ^ Door Ernie Ramaker (3 December 2011). "Wat heeft Sinterklaas
met Germaanse mythologie te maken?" (in Dutch). Historianet.nl.
Retrieved 18 November 2013.
* ^ "American
Christmas Origins". Arthuriana.co.uk. Retrieved 18
* ^ Hélène Adeline Guerber (d. 1929). "huginn and muninn "Myths
of the Norsemen" from". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 26 November 2012. CS1
maint: Multiple names: authors list (link )
* ^ Booy, Frits (2003). "Lezing met dia\'s over \'op zoek naar
zwarte piet\' (in search of Zwarte Piet)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 29
November 2007. Almekinders, Jaap (2005). "Wodan en de oorsprong van
het Sinterklaasfeest (Wodan and the origin of Saint Nicolas\'
festivity)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 28 November 2011. Christina,
Carlijn (2006). "St. Nicolas and the tradition of celebrating his
birthday". Retrieved 28 November 2011.
* ^ "Artikel: sinterklaas and Germanic mythology" (in Dutch).
historianet.nl. 3 December 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
* ^ "Piet en Sint - veelgestelde vragen". Meertens Instituut.
Retrieved 19 November 2013.
* ^ A B C "
Sinterklaas rituelen en tradities". jefdejager.nl.
Retrieved 19 November 2013.
* ^ E. Boer-Dirks, "Nieuw licht op Zwarte Piet. Een kunsthistorisch
antwoord op de vraag naar de herkomst", Volkskundig Bulletin, 19
(1993), pp. 1-35; 2-4, 10, 14.
* ^ In Nikolauskult und Nikolausbrauch im Abendlande: Eine
kultgeographisch-volkskundliche Untersuchung (Düsseldorf, 1931).
* ^ "Jan Schenkman" (in Dutch). dbnl.nl. Retrieved 28 November
* ^ For example: J. ter Gouw, in De volksvermaken (Haarlem, 1871),
p. 256, describes an ancient tradition of "Zwarte Klazen" in
Amsterdam; A.B. van Meerten, in Reisje door het Koningrijk der
Nederlanden en het Groot-Hertogdom Luxemburg, voor kinderen
(Amsterdam, 1827), describes a (fictional?) St. Nicholas celebration
in which the Saint appears "with a black face ... with a whip and a
rod in his hands"; and in De Nederlandsche Kindervriend, in gedichtjes
voor de welopgevoede jeugd (Amsterdam, 1829), pp. 72-74, "Sinterklaas"
is referred to as "a black man" who was said to descend down the
chimney "with a great noise of chains" which he used for fettering
naughty children. Respondents to a 1943 survey of the Meertens
Instituut wrote that they had known
Saint Nicholas "as a bishop or as
a black man with a chain on his foot" and "in the shape of a black
man. The bishop was unknown in my youth" (J. Helsloot, "Sich
verkleiden in der niederländischen Festkultur. Der Fall des 'Zwarte
Piet'", Rheinisches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde 26 (2005/2006), pp.
* ^ Booy, Frits (2003). "Lezing met dia\'s over \'op zoek naar
zwarte piet\' (in search of Zwarte Piet)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 29
* ^ ""St Nicholas en zijn knecht" by Jan Schenkman". Librivox.org.
12 October 2010. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
* ^ van Duinkerken, A. (5 December 1931). "Sint Niklaasgoed 1850
(Een surprise van Thijm aan Potgieter)". De Tĳd. pp. 21–22.
* ^ "Zij echter, die ter sluik op het St. Nicolaas feest hadden
rondgewandeld, vonden, te huis komende, de Pietermanknecht te hunnent;
de zoons in hunne vaders, de mannen in hunnen vrouwen en de
dienstmeisjes in hunne gebiedsters." ("St. Nikolaas", De Arke Noach's,
7, 10 (December 1833), pp. 294-299; p. 296)
* ^ Helsloot, J. (November 2011). "De oudst bekende naam van Zwarte
Piet: Pieter-mê-knecht (1850)". Digitale nieuwsbrief Meertens
* ^ Eelco Verwijs,
Sinterklaas (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1863),
p. 13. The slave is a young Alexandrian named Adeodatus.
* ^ See, for instance, the story of the Ethiopian slave "Piter" in
Anton van Duinkerken, "De Geschiedenis van Sinterklaas", De Tijd, 21
November 1947, p. 3; "Sint Nicolaas bevrijdde een slaaf. Uit
dankbaarheid ging deze vrijwillig de Sint dienen; hij heet Zwarte
Piet", De Nieuwsgier, 3 December 1954, p. 3; and also, from a slightly
different angle, Puck Volmer, "Hoe
Zwarte Piet het knechtje van
Sinterklaas werd", De Indische Courant, 29 November 1941, p. 19.
* ^ "Onderzoek RTL Nieuws:
Zwarte Piet moet zwart blijven". RTL
Nieuws. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
* ^ In a poll of RTL Nieuws , 81% only supported a solely black
Zwarte Piet with an additional 10% supporting a majority of Zwarte
Piets with a few soot-covered ones.
* ^ A 2015 inquiry by the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad
showed that in the overwhelming majority of Dutch municipalities, no
changes would be made to the traditional appearance of the Zwarte Piet
character. Only 6% of the municipalities approached mentioned (further
unspecified) changes to the character.
* ^ A 2013 inquiry by Dutch public news program EenVandaag showed
that in every Dutch province, the overwhelming majority did not
support changes in the
Zwarte Piet characters appearance. The largest
percentage in support of changing the characters appearance (9%) was
found in North-Holland.
* ^ In a 2012 study by the municipality of Amsterdam, shows that
majority of respondents do not consider the
Zwarte Piet character to
be racist or that the character is racists towards others, but this
differs greatly when comparing ethnic groups.
* ^ "Don\'t They Know It\'s
Christmas After All". This American
Life. Retrieved 7 December 2001.
* ^ "Russel Brand Over Zwarte Piet". De Morgen. Retrieved 17
* ^ "VN wil einde Sinterklaasfeest - Binnenland Het laatste
nieuws uit Nederland leest u op Telegraaf.nl ". Telegraaf.nl. 22
October 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
* ^ 2015 enquiry shows children perceive