Zwarte Piet, The Controversial Black Servant Of The Dutch Santa Claus

By | December 16, 2019

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A Sinterklaas celebration, which takes place on December 5. (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)

Every winter, the people of the Netherlands anxiously await the arrival of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus. In recent decades, however, the focus has shifted away from the jolly, old saint with a fondness for gift-giving to Sinterklaas’s sidekick, right-hand man, and faithful companion, Zwarte Piet. For years, Zwarte Piet (also called Black Pete) was a beloved character who was nevertheless basically Sinterklaas's slave and portrayed by white people in blackface. Depending on who you ask, he represents either quaint, harmless national tradition or racial oppression and cultural insensitivity. Let's delve into the origin of the Zwarte Piet legend and explore the current controversy surrounding this Dutch holiday figure. 

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Zwarte Piet dressed like a Renaissance court jester. (

Who Is Zwarte Piet?

In the Netherlands as well as Luxembourg, Belgium, and other parts of the world influenced by Dutch colonialism, Zwarte Piet is a black Moor from Spain who aids Sinterklaas in his tasks. He typically shows up right before Saint Nicholas Day wearing a colorful, Renaissance-inspired costume, which contrasts with Sinterklaas's red cloak and bishop-like hat. Zwarte Piet's role in the holiday festivities is to provide comic relief for children and hand out sweets.