Sinterklaas arrival draws big tv crowds, pro-blackface activists criticised

Children watching Sinterklaas arrive on television.
Children watching Sinterklaas arrive on television. Photo: Robin Utrecht via ANP

Some 2.2 million viewers watched Saturday’s broadcast showing the arrival of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, the kick-off for three weeks of festivities ahead of the main December 5 present-giving event.

The number of viewers is up some 500,000 on last year. This year traditional parades were cancelled because of coronavirus, and Dutch public broadcaster NTR has developed a special Covid storyline to explain the situation to young children. Several towns and cities held online events.

The lack of public events has muted the heated debate about Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas’s traditional helper who used to be portrayed by a white person in blackface makeup.

However, opinion has shifted over the past few years and Piet is now more likely to be portrayed with a sooty face, to represent climbing down the chimney to deliver gifts, particularly in the bigger Dutch cities.

Research published last week shows that support for the traditional blackface Zwart Piet continues to drop and can now only count on the backing of 55% of the Dutch population,. Last year, 71% of the 29,000 people polled for the EenVandaag panel said they backed the blackface version of Sinterklaas’ helper.

The AD also reported last week that some libraries have begun removing books showing stereotypical Piets from their shelves. The move is ‘logical’ and ‘appropriate to the times’, Dutch library association chief Anton Kok told the paper.

Meanwhile, MPs and other campaigners have slammed supporters of the blackface Zwart Piet for turning up at the home of a prominent anti blackface activist on Saturday.

Neighbours told the activists to leave after they stood outside the front door of rapper Akwasi’s home in Weesp.

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