Thursday 28 October 2021

Sinterklaas showdown looms as rivals organise separate parades in Amsterdam

Femke Halsema with Sinterklaas in happier times last November. Photo: ANP/Koen van Weel

The annual arrival of Sinterklaas has become a polarising event in the last decade, but it has never featured two rival saints and their entourages locked in battle on the quayside. Until now.

The prospect of two rival parades is the result of a schism in the Sinterklaas in Amsterdam organisation, which is responsible for the launch of the festive season in mid-November.

A group of volunteers broke away in protest at plans to move this year’s event to the Johan Cruyff Arena, as well as chairman Edgar Peer’s efforts to make the organisation more professional.

Those plans, designed to comply with the coronavirus rules, have since been abandoned, but the reversal came too late to stop the organisation splitting in two.

Peer and the two other office-bearers this week announced they were reverting to the more traditional canal tour ending at the Scheepvaartmuseum, followed by a reception at the neighbouring naval terrain, which has room for 6,000 people.

Separate steamship

However, the breakaway volunteers have booked their own steamship, launched a website and organised sponsors for their own trip to the maritime museum.

In previous years up to 400,000 spectators have lined the canals of Amsterdam to welcome Sinterklaas on his steamship laden with presents. Since 2017 he has been accompanied by sooty-faced assistants rather than blackface Zwarte Piets in an effort to modernise the tradition.

Peer told the Parool newspaper last week that the row over the plan for an alternative ceremony in the Johan Cruyff Arena in front of 55,000 children and parents had deepened the rift within the organisation.

‘People’s names were being blackened on social media,’ he said. ‘I want to co-operate with everyone, but the club behind this campaign has ostracised itself as far as I’m concerned. It’s all hands on deck, but anyone who doesn’t want to join in can leave.’

City mayor Femke Halsema said she was ‘deeply saddened’ by the row and pledged to offer additional financial support on top of the €180,000 subsidy the event already receives.

Halsema has told the city council she will speak to the rival parties, but she is unwilling to take sides in a dispute about the capital’s cultural heritage.

‘We want to have a celebratory atmosphere so our children in Amsterdam can enjoy a fun-filled day,’ she said.

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