Organisatie - 3 december 2009

Sinterklaas versus Santa Claus

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Some interesting differences between the United States and The Netherlands can be seen in the ways that Christmas is celebrated. What I’ve found most interesting is the the distinction between Christmas (25 December) as a religious holiday and Sinterklaas (5 December) as a more secular holiday.

24-HR-kerstman-vs-sint.jpg
The Dutch Sinterklaas legend, as I understand it, is that he comes from Spain on a boat with his Turkish/Ethiopian servant/assistant (depending on who is telling the story) Zwarte Piet, to deliver gifts to good girls an boys on December 5th, with bad children being taken away back to Spain (or worse) in a sack by Piet. Christmas, as a religious celebration of Jesus' birthday, seems to be largely distinct from the Sinterklaas tradition.
In contrast, Santa Claus (Sinterklaas' anglophone analog) and Christmas are entirely collapsed into one holiday in the US. The legend in the US is that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole on a sled pulled by flying reindeer, delivering presents and candy to good girls and boys. These toys are supposedly made in a workshop by elves and bad children are said to receive nothing, or perhaps just lumps of coal. All of this happens on the night of December 24th, and is directly associated with Christmas. Overall, the similiarities outnumber the differences, but the split holiday in the Netherlands gives the season a somewhat different feeling.
I must admit, however, that Zwarte Piet remains a problematic figure for me. In the US, the image of the black-faced servant acting as comic relief to the good and powerful white character is largely associated with the bad old days of institutionalized racism in the early post-slavery era. While I do strive to understand Dutch culture in its own terms, because of my own background, it remains difficult to see Zwarte Piet as something other than a damaging and offensive stereotype. However, I'm always interested to hear Dutch debates on the subject.
One final difference is that Christmas in the US (like so many other things), is intensely and aggressively commercialized, with ads, songs and d├ęcor increasingly saturating media and public spaces from early November to December 25. While Sinterklaas is clearly a significant marketing event in the Netherlands, the media commercial blitz doesn't seem to be quite so over-the-top, which I find a very pleasant difference. It is entirely possible that I'm just more out of touch with it here than I was in the US./Todd Crane, Technology and Agrarian Development Group

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  • Peter Kruijt

    In order to understand zwarte piet caracter we have to go back before de airplaine Sinterklaas come's by a live steamboat from spain in ower history spain is a country far away, and people have a different color, in my jonger days there was a magazine called sjors en sjimmie that was a white and african boy on adventure and sinterklaas was wel before actual. So in that perspectief there was no difference the where just friends. Zwarte piet could be as wel red or yellow. however the choose black. It is just in the latest years that dicrimanation was a thing. In my believe it was just a guy working in the coal. working his but of to make the steam a live even in now days coal make's you black that has noting to do with skin color, Just with the working CLASS. So there, if anything else i would say this ois the most aplacible isseu right there. !!! # ending bullshit"

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