The Tale of Black Pete
I walk into the Crib Keeper’s office. She is sitting, leaning back in her chair. Her legs are crossed and her feet are on her wide, oaken desk. A stogie, unlit, is staked between her clenched teeth.
“Have a seat, Mad Dad. Let me tell you something, see, I like you. I like you a lot. You’ve got spunk. Moxy. Hell of a writer and one hell of a great guy. But, see, I think you got more in the ol’ gas tank. A lot more. We need that and we need it now. First you get readers. Then you get advertising. Then Gawker Media buys you out. That’s the business, see. We need sexy posts, Mad Dad. Race. Alcohol. Disney characters taking a dump. Impress me, Mad Dad. See.”
My Christmas world is on its head. There’s no secret that I think it is the best time of the year and, I don’t care what your momma says, Christmas is coming soon.
I had friends, a married couple, take a post-Thanksgiving trip to Sweden with the opportunity of taking a short respite to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and France. My friend told me a story of walking down the street and a man dressed as Santa was greeting children. With him was an unrecognizable character. He was handing pieces of coal to the parents.
My friend called him an “evil Santa” without knowing the person’s true nature, background or his name.
It was Black Pete.
I didn’t know who Black Pete was. Asking around, nobody really does. As I have taken the time to learn more, Black Pete has taken over my Yuletide consciousness. He is my new Santa.
First off, Google image search “Black Pete” or, as he’s known in Europe, “Zwarte Piet.” Please. Do it. Right now. Done? OK. I’d like to go ahead and apologize to the African race and any descendents thereof. Just want to put that out there.
Black Pete is a part of the holiday mythology in Belgium and The Netherlands. A “companion” of Santa Claus, BP passes out Yuletide treats to girls and boys on Sinterklaas-avond or St. Nicholas Eve, Dec. 6. He wears Renaissance-era garb with pantaloons and a feathered cap. And he is black. Very black.
Here are 10 Christmas fun facts about Black Pete:
10. In northern mainland Europe, in the 1800s, it was thought that Santa was accompanied by a demon when making his rounds and, on St. Nicholas Eve, evil was overcome and the demon was placed in chains and … enslaved. Early depictions of Black Pete show a demonic visage. The Austrian version is Krampus, which, also, is quite the Google image search.
9. In the region, Black Pete was thought to be one of the enslaved demons.
8. According to legend, Black Pete resides in Spain during the off-season and is thought to be a Moop … err, I mean Moor.
7. American kids got it easy. Sinterklaas and Black Pete reportedly kidnap naughty children, stuff them in a burlap sack and carry them off to Spain. Other than the burlap sack, vacationing in Spain doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Outside of the Moops lowering home values.
6. General thought about Black Pete is that he’s “not too smart” (at worst) and inattentive (at best). Might as well say he likes to play basketball.
5. Common current-day portrayals of Black Pete include white folk donning black face, wearing afro wigs, garish jewelry, bright red lipstick and handing out candy to people on the street and rafting down the Mississippi with Huck.
4. Four Dutch individuals were arrested for wearing “Zwarte Piet is racist” T-shirts last month. No word as to whether they were saying Zwarte Piet himself was racist to others or if the depiction of Zwarte Piet is offensive. Need to workshop their message, I think.
3. Apparently, black face is generally not offensive in The Netherlands.
2. Another legend – instead of Sinterklaas enslaving BP – notes that Sinterklaas actually freed Black Pete, and he was so grateful that he agreed to become a servant. Sounds like a little American history re-writing.
1. This year in British Columbia, St. Nicholas Eve celebrations were cancelled due to debate about Black Peter. Instead of proceeding with just Sinterklaas, they decided to scrap it all. Black Pete meant so much to them.
I hope this information makes this holiday season a bit more special. Coming soon: A Mad Dad collection of Black Pete tinsel, figurines and children’s videos and coloring books.