Usually for Sinterklaas when people give gifts to each other, they also write funny poems about its recipient. However, one man thought it would be laugh to write a hurtful poem about a female colleague, making fun of her failed relationship [they were going to marry, but that didn’t go through] with another colleague.
And it gets worse: he decided to read the poem out loud in front of 140 colleagues dressed as Sinterklaas. The end of the poem basically says ‘now you’re stuck celebrating Christmas on your own’, and then he sang a song about being lonely at Christmas.
The court said this showed zero respect for the female colleague, and has now had 16 hours of ‘furlough’ revoked, which by the way is from the Dutch ‘verlof’, basically meaning time off.
Even if the man disliked the woman and/or the other colleague involved – we don’t know – I don’t understand why he thought this form of humiliation was in any way funny or appropriate.
Every year in the Netherlands, you can hear someone say ‘those pepernoten [actually kruidnoten] are already in the shop this year!’, with irritation in their voice. It’s a similar, yearly reaction to anyone from North America like myself who sees the Halloween stuff disappear from shops on 1 November being replaced with Christmas stuff the very same day.
Who sells Sinterklaas treats in summer? The answer is the PLUS supermarket in Almelo, Overijssel. And the owner believes the ‘shock’ is free publicity and he’s probably right. Amusingly, PLUS has been selling kruidnoten since the end of July, for the ‘heck of it’. ‘They’re perfect for the BBQ or next to the swimming pool’, claims the owner.
There’s already Sinterklaas treats in the shops, we’ve spent the summer in controversy with ‘Zwarte Piet’ and now in Ede, Gelderland, there’s a run on toys featuring the soon to be phased out black festive helper.
Online webshop Lobbes.nl based in Ede has sold all its Fisher Price Sinterklaas sets in one day. We’re not talking millions of sets, but the run on the toys did not go unnoticed. Fisher Price has announced that it will stop producing its traditional sets following complaints related to the figure of Zwarte Piet deemed racist by the courts.
What I’m thinking is in the years to come when the Dutch will be getting used to the phasing out of Zwarte Piet, anyone who has Zwarte Piet toys or decorations will make some extra cash. For all we know, they’ll import stuff from China if they’re not already doing that. And one day, a bit like gollywogs they’ll be seen more ironically than as actual festive figures.
The court of Amsterdam has handed down a ruling today that the entire Dutch media was waiting for about Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’, Saint Nicholas’ holiday time helper): it turns out he’s deemed “offensive to black people” and “racist” after all.
Although it was argued by many that Zwarte Piet is just some black figure and that he had nothing to do with slavery, a point that can surely be made, the blackface clown with exaggerated red lips and golden earrings apparently encourages a “negative stereotyping of black people”. In Dutch, when someone is made out to be the ‘bad guy’ in a situation, it is called to be the ‘Zwarte Piet’, which says a lot already about how he is viewed.
Today’s verdict only applies to Amsterdam and it remains to be seen what the rest of the country will make of such a strong and old tradition being struck down. Internet comments are not the nicest at the moment, blaming a few people for ruining it for everybody else and that sort of thing.
I wonder if Zwarte Piet is worth being the perpetual ‘bad guy’ and ‘whipping boy’ for a deeper discussion about racial stereotypes that needs to happen and will see where history will collectively take the Netherlands on this one.
Yesterday I went to the Saint Nicholas parade in Amsterdam.
The bishop of Myra visits the Netherlands, Belgium and other parts of Europe each year to give gifts and candy on his birthday (6 December) to children that have been good and to take children that have been bad back to his palace in Spain.
Recently the appearance of Saint Nicholas’ helpers, the Black Petes, has drawn criticism for its uncanny resemblance to a black caricature.
As a response to the criticism, the city of Amsterdam promised to tone Black Pete down a bit. I did not see much evidence of that, the lips were caricaturally red as ever, although golden earrings seemed to have disappeared.
Richard Garsthagen made this ingenious gift box for his 15-year-old niece for Saint Nicholas’ Eve.
On Saint Nicholas’ Eve many grown ups and teenagers in the Netherlands give each other gifts. To keep things affordable a spending limit is determined and the name of each recipient is drawn from a hat. The gift is hidden somewhere in the house or wrapped in a difficult to unwrap package called the ‘surprise’, and the person giving it writes a poem on behalf of Saint Nicholas in which the good saint mockingly reviews the recipients’ past year.
Garsthagen’s niece did not seem to understand the concept of a spending limit and asked for gifts that were much more expensive than that, so he hid her gift in a The Price is Right game. In the video he explains how it works, and at Instructables he explains how you can create a game like this yourself.
(Photo: crop from a screenshot of the video by Richard Garsthagen)
Yesterday the city of Roermond in Limburg played host to the official reception of Saint Nicholas in the Netherlands, and the city was the centre of attention in the week before in children’s news show Sinterklaasjournaal.
One of the features of the show are street interviews with a band of jolly Limburgers that turned out not to be Limburgers at all, but actors from Holland that could not be bothered to learn the local accent well.
Sinterklaasjournaal broadcaster NTR told De Gelderlander that they asked all of two (!) actors from Limburg to appear on the show, “but they both couldn’t come. The list runs out at some point.”
Limburg has a rich stage tradition, producing many great actors and directors. Perhaps these actors were too expensive for a two-bit (but still tax-funded) operation like NTR?
Children from Roermond told another public broadcaster, NOS, that “they are mocking us, and that is just wrong.” Another child had a practical solution to help heal all wounds: “I think Saint Nicholas should give more gifts to the children of Limburg this year.”
As if the troubled old mining town of Heerlen didn’t have enough problems, just before Sinterklaas, the biggest shopping time of the year in the Netherlands, shopping mall ‘t Loon (residential tower shown here) has been closed off, as it could collapse at any moment.
There is a parking garage under the mall, which has been propped up with big steel beams since October. A part of the garage was closed off for security reasons and the people living in the 12-story tower above were told that the cement pillars in the garage had cracks in them.
That’s the only information residents got until just a few days ago when the authorities announced that the mall was unsafe. A dozen shops have had to close and cars have been removed from the parking on the roof, while residents have been offered alternative accommodations in a motel.
Today, the shopping mall is empty and ‘potdicht’ (totally closed off). It could be months before they reopen, if it the entire thing doesn’t collapse before then, which actually could happen.
Experts and specialists are working on it, as it wasn’t just some construction error. Something underground is accelerating the sinking, but nobody knows what yet. And it all got worse overnight. As I write this, the city of Heerlen is holding a press conference and twittering about the situation.
Tonight’s pakjesavond, when Saint Nick visits the homes of many a European child to deliver presents.
I realise many of you won’t be sharing in the fun because you have fallen for the trickery of the Arctic imposter. Fret not, though. With Wiering Software’s video game Zwarte Piet you can experience the gift delivery process as if you were here in person.
Guide Black Peter across rooftops, collect the delicious pepernoten (lit. ‘pepper nuts’) and shove them together with gifts down chimneys. Mike Wiering has been producing new versions of this game every year, so if you don’t like this particular version, try another. Tip: “Klaar! Zoek de uitgang” means “Claire! Find the exit”.
UPDATE: We are very aware that many Dutch folks now consider Zwarte Piet a racist stereotype.
Today I went to the arrival parade for Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam. Yesterday the Saint entered the country at Harderwijk, and today he visited various towns. Black Petes handed out tons of candy to the children lining the streets.