You must wonder about this funny children’s celebration of the Netherlands (and Belgium).
In ancient Europe it was celebrated all over but in time only the Netherlands and Belgium kept the tradition. Because of this long tradition and it’s historical origin the presentation is controversial these days. Especially Black Pete is considered racist.
To understand our tradition a bit more find a short version of the history below.
The Origin of the Saint and his Helper
This Dutch/Belgian tradition is based on the myth of Saint Nicholas, a man who lived in the 4th century in Turkey. He was known for protecting people (vulnerable children especially), give to the poor and was crowned in the Turkish town Myra for his good deeds. He was born around the year 280 and died around the year 350.
In the tradition, Saint Nicholas survived his death and like Santa Claus gives presents to children. Nicolas does not deliver the presents all himself, he has a helper called Pete. Together they bring presents for the children through the chimney. When Pete traveled through the chimney too much his skin became covered in soot. For this reason Pete received a new name: Black Pete.
Every year three weeks before his birthday, December 5th, Saint Nicolas with his helper Black Pete arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat. Every night in these three weeks children can put their shoe by the fireplace so Saint Nicholas will bring a small present or candy.
December 5th is the Evening of Presents. During this evening Saint Nicholas will knock on the door and brings a big burlap sack full of presents. On December the 6th Saint Nicholas returns to his current homeland, Spain.
Saint Nicholas has nothing to do with Christmas. Actually, Saint Nicholas is the base of the mythical holiday figure of Santa Claus.
Above all Saint Nicholas is supposed to be a fun time for children. Extra treats and presents once a year. A happy warm start of wintertime. Over the years this celebration is altered. Adults still celebrate Saint Nicholas. They buy each other nice gifts with a funny poem. Just for fun.
To get rid of the nasty stigma (and it’s outdated themes and presentation) this celebration got a modern makeover. Black Pete is no longer black and also all the songs are adjusted! As of this year we’ll sing these songs instead: Click here for our songs
Luckily the essence of this celebration is still intact!