The official televised ‘arrival’ of Sinterklaas in Meppel this year will include alternative Piets with sooty faces, the organisers of the procession have agreed.
In addition, sooty Piets will also be part of the processions in Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Maastricht, the organisers say.
The decision to bring in alternative Piets follows the heated discussion about the character of Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) who accompanies Sinterklaas and is usually played by white people in blackface make-up.
The replacement of traditional Piets by sooty-faced Piets will continue gradually in the coming years. ‘This change keeps the traditions and story of Sinterklaas alive,’ the organisers said. ‘It also shifts the way Piet looks more towards what children have been told for years – that he came down a chimney.’
A number of schools and high street stores are also taking steps to change the way Piet looks.
In August, the Bijenkorf department store group said it is replacing the traditional automated climbing Piets which decorate its main halls every Sinterklaas with golden versions.
The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in a report on the Netherlands this summer that even a ‘deeply rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes’.
Sinterklaas was first given a black page in a book called Sinterklaas and his Servant published in 1850 by school teacher Jan Schenkman.
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