December 08, 2013

The Annual Sinterklaas Celebration

Who's been naughty or nice? He's got it all written down in his book
The Dutch community in Beirut celebrated their annual Sinterklaas feast, a feast mainly for children, but the adults all have fond memories, and are making sure that the tradition is passed on to their children, even when not living in Holland.   The Sinterklaas tradition is an old one, but may change in the future.
Slavery was abolished in Holland in 1865. Reason why in Holland, every year around St. Nicholas, on December the 5th, the debate resurfaces about the existence of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (black Pete), who is St. Nicholas’ black servant. It is deemed by some to be of racist origin. The call for colored Petes (other than black, of course) gets stronger every year.
St. Nicholas  in the US - introduced by Dutch immigrants - merged into Santa Claus, en he wisely ditched his black servants for a bunch of elves.
I am not sure when slavery was abolished in Lebanon, although you could consider the trade in housekeepers a form of slavery, but nobody here questions the quaint Dutch habit of celebrating their annual children’s feats with a couple of black servants. And so part of the Dutch culture sort of continues here in a bubble.
I understand that the Dutch in the US have difficulties continuing the feast in its original form; a white man colored black in order to represent a servant does not go down well in public opinion in a country where race relations are far from the way they should be. But then again, in Holland we still screw up royally now and then.
It is often said that people living outside their home country hold on to the traditions of their motherland with such a vengeance that they become more orthodox in their ways than those back home. I can just see this happening. While in Holland the black Petes will be colored in all the colors of the rainbow, we keep ‘m dark in Beirut.
He's done for 2013, going back home until December 5, 2014

1 comment:

Tanya said...

I am so glad you wrote this because I was curious about the St Nicholas tradition, so it was interesting to learn more. I also found it shocking seeing the people covered in black paint in your pictures. Definitely agree with you some aspects of tradition could do with evolution.