Festive fun or racism? Dutch ‘Black Pete’ row gets violent

A group of 40 pro-Pete demonstrators were detained in Tilburg on Sunday as police said they were out looking for a fight. The biggest ceremony, a nationally-televised arrival in Zaanstad, went ahead without incident amid heavy security.

Justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said pro-Pete groups who had committed acts of violence would be prosecuted. There were reports of “provocations” but no violence by anti-Pete protesters.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion,” Grapperhaus said. “But public disorder, throwing things — the police will always act to stop that.”

In Dutch lore, St. Nicholas travels once a year from Spain on a steamboat laden with presents, accompanied by dozens of helpers who traditionally have their faces painted black. Together, children are told, they travel the land for two weeks, handing out cookies and presents, finishing with a night of gifts and poems on December 5.

In Amsterdam, St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas” in Dutch, arrived on Sunday with 350 helper Petes wearing only smudges on their faces, rather than full black face paint: one variant of the story says Pete is black with soot from climbing down chimneys to deliver presents. 

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