Thursday, December 08, 2016

'If they don't speak like we do, they're not welcome here!'

'If they don't speak like we do, they're not welcome here!'

Interesting you should say so...

The country of The Netherlands is filled with foreigners who speak the local language with a 'funny' accent. Mainly in the weeks before 'Sinterklaas', the birthday of the guy the beloved American 'Santa Claus' is based on. His helpers are not elves but 'Black Pete'. In the early days one single scary (what's more scary than someone with a skin colour you've never seen? Hence the African rituals in which people paint their faces white.). Somewhere in the fifties the 'centuries old' tradition arised that Sinterklaas was aided by more than one helper.

By the end of the Middle Ages Sinterklaas went door to door to spank the lady of the house on the bare bottom with his rod (yeah, I know) as a fertility ritual , often accompanied by a devilish scary figure. By the 1850's the scary figure was replaced by 'those scary black people' that helped the Dutch (and English and French...) economy to blossom. For free! The earrings - I'm guessing know - probably point towards pirates. Who were scary people too. Just like in large parts of Africa scary demon-like figures are usually painted white. Because to people who have never seen a white person, a white person is really, really scary.

In my childhood (A long time ago, don't remind me please) Sinterklaas was a wise smart white catholic guy who loved to pull small children onto his lap (these days that's considered criminal. Especially when a catholic priest or bishop does it) and have his clumsy weird (he's a 'foreigner' and 'foreigners' speak a different language!) helpers do funny things while handing out candy. Naughty kids apparently had disappeared all together. The collar worn bij Zwarte Piet has absolutely nothing to do with slavery but was simply the fashion at the Spanish court around the 16th century and Jan Schenkman (the Amsterdam teacher who was the first to write a book about 'Sinterklaas and his aid' thought of the story of Sinterklaas coming from Spain. As that country was not yet a populair holiday destination but just symbolic 'a kingdom far, far away'. Even William of Orange wore one!

These days Sinterklaas is an old fool who has lost his cross (look at the pictures: there is no more cross on his 'mijter' because it offended non-christians. He needs his smart caretakers to even help him find his glasses and often his Big Book with all the details of all kids in it. An item Anonymous is eager to get their hands on! So yes, of course having people with dark skin running around helping a white dude who gives them orders can remind people of slavery. But not many people oppose the game of basketball.

Bottomline: traditionally traditions change over time. So will this one.

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