Sunday, October 13, 2013

Zwarte Piet again

So it's that time of year when I bemoan the obsession foreigners have with the Dutch Zwarte Piet, and the Dutch stubborness for insisting that such a display of racism isn't actually racist.  In previous years, I've treated it with the distance that my expat status allows me--"let the peons have their gods, I will follow my reason" sort of thing.  And honestly, it was a stance I was more than happy to maintain, since the arguments for and against the Zwarte Piet are like the Titanic and the Carpathia--gliding past each other without ever hitting the real mark:  why do Dutch people care so much about him, anyway?

But now, that's all changed.  Because I'm a mom, now, and in a few years the kidlet will be old enough to want to partake in Sinterklaas, and frankly...well, this'll probably get me into some trouble with the IND, but I don't want him to.  Because it is racist. Say what you will about Santa and his helpers, everybody knows elves aren't real.

I've always maintained that there are better things to get your panties into a twist about, and I do stand by that.  See:  child marriage, modern slavery, Texas.  But here I am, getting my patnies into a knot about it, because on the one hand I don't want my kid to be the one kid who ruins Sinterklaas for everybody, but at the same time, it's not a celebration I would weep over if it were to disappear next year.  It's especially tricky, because his father loves Sinterklaas and genuinely isn't racist (hell, he married me) but Karel is perhaps the only person who still remembers that it's Sint Nicolaas who is the ultimate arbitrator of the presents, and one of the few who isn't pathologically attached to Piet.

What makes it even harder is that I kinda like the tradition of writing a little poem and reading it aloud before opening the little present.  Putting your shoe in front of the fireplace--in our case, leaving a "key" outside our apartment door (yes, they sell keys for Sint and Piet in case you don't have a chimney)--is quaint and devestatingly cute.

I wish there was a way to separate the celebration from the icons.  I don't see much wrong with celebrating a saint's death--it is a bit morbid for my tastes, but kids in Catholic countries seem to do all right.  But why does Sint need a Piet?  Why the silly Sint report on the nightly news, with the made up drama about lost packages and boats sinking?  (No, there is no Santa report in the US)  Why does it matter so much that the Sint has his Piet?  The way I see it, that's the real question that needs answering.  And until someone can point me in the direction of a good answer, Sinterklaas in our place will be devoid of both a Sint and a Piet.