Santa vs Sinter: the battle for Christmas

Sinterklaas comes first, and has less body fat
Santa is jolly and not a racist

It’s practically Christmas-time. Which means, in the Netherlands at least, it’s that awkward period when both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are on the mind. Two men, both alike in dignity and name, yet distinctly different. Two men who are practically the same in name, dress and origin. Here’s a handy chart to learn the differences.

Living here in the Netherlands means both are celebrated. Sint comes around on 5 December and Santa on the 25th. They are very similar traditions and I can choose my favourite. Spoiler alert: it’s Santa. Always has been, always will be. Sorry Sint.

But then again, I live in the Netherlands now. I’m studying Dutch, I’ve been audited, I belong here. At least in some ways. So I’m trying to warm up to Sint and his holidays. And there’s lots of great things: pepernoten (ginger cookies) he rides a white horse and lives in Spain. Plus I learned some Sinterklaas carols at Dutch class, and I liked it.

But then again, there’s the Zwarte Pieten. If you’re not already familiar with the controversy… whoo boy.

Remember, for comparison’s sake, that Santa has magical elves as helpers, and that seems to rankle very few.

Sinter on the other hand, has a helper too. A black boy named Zwarte Piet. This has created huge problems, as there’s some racist elements in some of the stories.

However, the problems in the stories themselves are few and mild compared to the wildly popular ongoing tradition of dressing up as Zwarte Piet. Which is to say: in blackface.

There is a debate currently – and belatedly – raging in the Netherlands (and globally) about the casual and willful racism in Zwarte Piet’s participation in Sinterklaas’s party.

Here’s a good intro to the furore. And Google Image search “Zwarte Piet” to see some shocking contemporary blackface.

And, while the whole situation makes me quite uncomfortable, I find it hard to hold it against Sinterklaas himself. It’s much easier to blame Dutch culture in general. Still, as Sinterklaas is part of Dutch culture, he gets tainted by association.

Which makes it pretty much game set and match for Santa.

2017-09-14T08:43:42+00:00 December 18 2013|