Black Pete in the Netherlands

I have been dreading this moment ever since we moved to the Netherlands earlier this year: The 6th of December, Saint Nicholas Day.  Putting it simply, Saint Nicholas Day in the Netherlands is the equivalent of Christmas.  On the eve of Saint Nicholas Day children receive presents.  So yes, this is a big deal for kids. They are looking forward to it every year. And although this is not part of our tradition to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, everybody is talking about it and you can see signs of the celebration everywhere in town.

Now you are probably wondering, why are you such a grinch Claude. Christmas and its equivalent cannot be bad. This is underestimating the power of racists. Why? Picture this:  Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas) is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dresses commonly known as Black Pete.  Yeah, Black faces are either considered racist around the world. But not in the Netherlands. 

A court ruling was issued today, 16th of November: TV broadcasters will not be stopped from showing the character’s “racist characteristics” on TV.  One broadcaster even justified airing images of Black Pete because “some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black.” Look once again at the cover photo. How many times do you have to go up and down a chimney for your skin to be so black, for your hair to curl, and your lips to triple in size and get bright red?  This is beyond stupid, yet a lot of Dutch people see nothing wrong with Black Piet.  Let’s say that the chimney can curl your hair, mask your whole face with the blackest soot and inflate your lips… let’s say that this is even remotely possible… Why do you have to be so realistic with a fictional character that can be at the same time everywhere in the Netherlands and give presents or kidnap naughty kids – for real this is part of the story.  Santa Claus goes up and down chimney with a huge belly and is sparkly clean, and that does not bother any kids in the world!

This is so messed up that even the United Nations have decided to speak out: The UN has called on the Netherlands to change a character that it said had been “experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”

So what to do? We initially planned to leave the country and avoid seeing any Black Petes, but this craziness lasts a long time. It started on the 14th of November and will go until at least the 6th of December.  First, we had hope. Especially when my son’s school announced that there will be no Black Petes, only soot Pete

Soot Pete example

If you tell me that this guy went down the chimney, I’ll trust you. His hair is messy but not curly, and his face just has soot. I would still ask how come his white neck fan is so clean… but you know…

But, it would be too easy if everyone had half a brain.  There are still Black Petes dolls in a few stores in town. My wife saw them first on her way to the library. Let me present evidence 1

Black Petes in our city

What did she decide to do? She went in and talked to the shop owner and asked “what can your customers do for you to remove Black Petes from the window”.  This sentence and approach in itself is a good case to review for negotiations:

  • Be the change you want to see: Don’t complain about it, do something against it.  It only takes a few seconds. And like in all negotiations, if you do not ask, you will never get.
  • Say the unexpected: The owners probably expected her to complain, be mad about it and repeat what they have heard already 100 times.  Instead, catch them by surprise. Make them feel awkward.
  • Be solution focused: Double whammy. Not only you surprised them, now they are really confused when you are only focusing on potential solutions (next year we are planning to carry appropriate soot Pete dolls to give away to shop owners – yes, leaving them no excuses)

The great surprise my wife got? on her way back from the library, one of the 3 stores she stopped at removed the dolls. This gives me hope, even though the best school in town, which is right at the end of our street allegedly had a primary school teacher say “we are not only white on the outside, but also on the inside” in reference to the school having only white pupils. But that is for a different blogpost.

Comment below what you think should be done about Black Pete.


  1. It’s a shameful side of a lovely celebration. It will take some years and tiring debates but I’m quite sure we will rid ourselves of this racist habit. Black Pete critics may be getting a lot of flak now, I think time will demonstrate they were on the right side of history and generations further down the line will thank them.

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