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Yes, as the festive season descends upon us, even in the Netherlands we have political debates about Sinterklaas (the bearded bishop you see sold in chocolate in your local supermarket).
It's not along the American lines of replacing the Christian-centred "Merry Christmas" with the more neutral "Season's Greetings". No, it is a full-fledged economic and cultural battle between our great traditional Sinterklaas and that tacky American Santa.
Purists will point out that whereas Christmas has descended into a competitive "my-gift-is-more-expensive-than-yours" feast, gifts from Sinterklaas are truly anonymous and as such more in the true spirit of giving.
In addition, a poem is often included, which allows for mild reprimands, which the Calvinist Dutch adore. Finally, there is the "surprise" (pronounced sur-pree-za) whereby you do something artistic like wrap your present up to resemble something different or organise a trail with hints through the house. All much more industrious and creative than having Macy's wrap it for you.
Doesn't Santa just have
Santa's defenders have two big arguments. Firstly, since Santa is being pushed by Coca Cola and Hollywood, Sinterklaas is bound to lose out. Why pick a loser's battle? But recently the Dutch film industry has come to the rescue with a follow-up to the wildly popular movie about Sinterklaas' horse. In addition, after his official arrival Saturday the 17th at Scheveningen harbour, there is 'Sinterklaas-news' for kids every day until he departs again on the 6 December. Eat your heart out Santa.
a touch of 'je ne sais quoi'
Doesn't Santa just have
The second argument against Sinterklaas is, of course, that he walks around with black helpers and is therefore at best colonial and at worst racist. Sorry, but all Dutch kids know that Zwarte Piet is not a black man, he simply has soot on his face from climbing up and down the chimney.
In fact, when they tried white Piets in Bijlmermeer, a predominantly black area of Amsterdam, the black kids demanded black Piets. They've also tried to have real black people playing Piet, but the kids (black and white) didn't buy that either – it has to be a whitish person with black paint on his face. So go ahead and enjoy the fun. Come sing and cheer on the 17th as the steamer from Spain arrives loaded with presents.
You'll even be doing your bit for integration, since Sinterklaas is originally from Turkey. So who'll win the battle between the friendly bearded guys with gifts?
As with most battles in Holland, this one will be resolved by economic powers: the shops. They know what is in their real interest: two huge holidays, with lots of presents, candies and decorations to be sold. They'll keep pushing both gentlemen and we'll keep enjoying the fun (and opening our wallets).
27 November 2007
Lousewies van der Laan is a former MP and MEP for the liberal party D66. She writes a fortnightly column for the expat community in Holland to help you integrate in current Dutch debates. If you have comments or would like to propose topics to understand Dutch politics better: please write to email@example.com.
[Copyright Expatica 2007]
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