Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet

Discussion in 'Urban Legends & Folklore' started by Yithian, Nov 28, 2017.

  1. Yithian

    Yithian Bless you, Anti-Pesto! Staff Member

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    Alas, no input from Pietro Mercurios, but I'm interested in the contemporarily contentious, traditional Dutch sidekick to St. Nicholas / Santa Claus.

    From the most recent flare-up:

    The characterisation of Zwarte Piet – or Black Pete – has divided Dutch society in recent years. In 2015 the UN stepped in to declare it was a “vestige of slavery”. Some major cities, including Amsterdam and The Hague, have refashioned Zwarte Piet’s image, or done away with him altogether, to avoid accusations of racism.

    Others, however, continue to believe the character’s portrayal to be a harmless tradition. In a survey of 272 of the 388 Dutch municipalities, 239 said they would be sticking with the traditional image in 2017.

    The blackened face is often explained away in those cases as a consequence of Zwarte Piet climbing sooty chimneys while helping Saint Nicholas deliver presents at a feast on the evening of 5 December. Opponents say that Zwarte Piet is instead a reference to slavery.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2...xtreme-right-appears-to-stoke-dutch-divisions

    Wikipedia has a good chunk:

    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 Krampus.

    The introduction of Zwarte Piet did coincide, by and large, with a change in the attitude of the already existing Sinterklaas character, 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 attributed to 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 legend, 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 associated with 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 Myra (Lycia, modern-day Turkey). 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 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 considerably.

    According to a story from the Legenda Aurea, retold by Eelco Verwijs in his monograph Sinterklaas (1863), one of the miraculous deeds performed by 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.[21] 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 companion.

    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 chimneys.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwarte_Piet#Origins
     
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  2. maximus otter

    maximus otter Recovering policeman

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    You don't have the "Need to Know."
    The manufactured outrage engine is coaxed back to life by the professionally-offended.

    Does Holland really have nothing more important to worry about?

    maximus otter
     
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  3. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...

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    The specific features cited here:

    - Santa has an accomplice whose role is focused on punishment;
    - Abduction in burlap sacks;
    - Allusion to birch bundles / birching (spanking with twig switches)

    ... are identical with the basic Krampus tradition from the central Alpine regions, which RE-surfaced in its currently known form circa the 17th century.

    Isn't it reasonable to suggest the Zwarte Piet concept is a recycled Krampus figure - one for which certain 19th depictions shifted the meme sideways to incorporate historical (and arguably racist) overtones?
     
  4. ramonmercado

    ramonmercado CyberPunk

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    The little boy would indeed be brave if he stuck his finger in a dyke these days.
     
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  5. Xanatic*

    Xanatic* Justified & Ancient

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    He's really more of an unpaid intern.
     
  6. St Germain

    St Germain Fresh Blood

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    I spent most of my childhood in The Netherlands. I never thought of Zwarte Piet as a black person. Like the golly on the Robertson's jam label, I never gave it any thought. I don't think I actually saw a real live black person until I was ten years old. Anyway, whilst Sinterklaas technically "outranks" Zwarte Piet (he is a bishop after all), the two always seemed part of a team, like Batman and Robin. Zwarte Piet may be a servant, but he's no slave and is never portrayed as being miserable or oppressed.

    It is worth noting that the whole Sinterklaas thing occurs in Belgium too.

    Any offence taken is due to sheer ignorance. These European traditions obviously go back centuries, and are mixed up with Krampus, Saturnalia and countless other things.
     
  7. Xanatic*

    Xanatic* Justified & Ancient

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    Isn't it the other way around? Offence is due to not being ignorant about Piet being black and a slave.
     
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  8. Bullseye

    Bullseye Abominable Snowman

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    Yes, yes it does, I was there a couple of months ago, not for the first time. Nice place ,nice people(just like Brits to be honest),good infrastucture,all integated, did'nt really need to use the car when there.Then we went to the outdoor market in Den Haag........we left after 5 minutes, far too uncomfortable, unfortunately came out in the middle of tenament blocks.........not saying anymore, could no doubt find many places like it in UK, ..................it was like a vision of Europe in 25 years time............
     
  9. Dr_Baltar

    Dr_Baltar Justified & Ancient

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    Please explain.
     
  10. Xanatic*

    Xanatic* Justified & Ancient

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    I think he just means that they have been culturally enriched.
     
  11. Coal

    Coal Gentleman, scholar, acrobat.

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    ...and are approaching equality of outcome for everyone.
     
  12. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    Which isn't as good as it sounds.
     
  13. Coal

    Coal Gentleman, scholar, acrobat.

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    Because it's not possible.
     
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  14. Bullseye

    Bullseye Abominable Snowman

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    Spot on, although no actual physical violence toward us you could see the looks of.......unfreindlyness....toward us, but we were probably very much mistaken, it was probably looks of gratitude for letting them settle in northern European countries.
     

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