here comes Sinterklaas!

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If you lived in one of the Low Countries, like the Netherlands or Belgium or some parts of France, you would be gearing up today for the appearance of Sinterklaas or Sint Nicolaas,  that’s right jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas, himself. He’s depicted as a white bearded man in a red cape. Also known as De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man). He’s been keeping track of who’s been naughty or nice and comes bringing gifts to the good boys and girls. He arrives with his helpers called Zwarte Pieten, the Black Petes, Al Jolson look alikes in black face like some ol’ time minstrel show and that’s where the controversy starts.  2011 marked “Slavery Remembrance Year” and protesters called for the end of the practice. Some try to explain the tradition of blackface as depicting the black soot from the chimneys they had to climb down to deliver the presents but others say it is plain racist and has no place in the modern world. The Dutch argue that it is a beloved cherished tradition that harms no one. They also counter that America’s Santa is a mysogynistic pimp going around saying “ho, ho, ho, ” while the  Zwarte Pieten toss candy around, a tradition supposedly originating in Sint Nicolaas’ story of saving three young girls from prostitution by tossing golden coins through their window at night to pay their father’s debts. Then there was the time one of them stuck a finger in a dyke but we won’t go into that here. So while they may be anachronisms from a by gone era, even today the Zwarte Pieten insist that Sinterklaas is pretty fly for a white guy.

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