Dutch Santa faces ban in Suriname
Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, looks set to be banned in Suriname. MPs in the former Dutch colony say the Sinterklaas festival is racist.
A white Sinterklaas brings presents for children accompanied by his blacked-faced ‘helper’ , or Black Peter. The critical MPs say this master-servant relationship serves as a bad example for children.
It was the former president of the Latin American country, Ronald Venetiaan, who raised the issue in parliament during a debate on the culture budget. He described it as a "provocation" that the Sinterklaas festival should be celebrated on Independence Square in the Surinamese capital Paramaribo.
Parliament now proposes a ban on the celebration of Sinterklaas in schools. It is expected that the proposal will be approved when the government responds next week.
Like Santa, Sinterklaas is a kindly, gift-giving old man with a long white beard, but his red and white garb is far more ecclesiastical. More importantly, he has nothing to do with Christmas – his festival is celebrated on 5 December.
Soot Sinterklaas’ gift-bearing assistant Black Peter is traditionally a black-faced character in Moorish costume with thick lips and curly black hair. He is also a source of controversy in the Netherlands. This year, when they appeared at a Sinterklaas parade wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Black Peter is racism’.
The vast majority of Dutch people deny that there is anything racist about blacking up to play the role. They sometimes skirt the issue of Black Peter’s racial origin by explaining that his black face comes from the soot in the chimneys through which he descends to bring children their presents. One answer to the accusations of racism, popular in Suriname, is to swap the black make-up for blue or other colourful variations.
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