As one of the most progressive nations on Earth regarding homosexuality, gender equality and human rights, the Netherlands is probably the last country you’d expect to be called out on racism. Especially when the controversy is mainly focused around a children’s festivity.

Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of the American Santa Claus who brings presents to children who have behaved themselves over the past year. Both bring joy to the world, but Sinterklaas has a helper who might cause you to raise your eyebrows: Black Pete. Dutchmen use blackface and dress up in colourful clothes to play Black Pete, the jolly and naughty child friend.

While Dutch children learn that Pete’s face is black because of soot from the chimney he has to climb down in order to deliver presents, this explanation can’t account for the red lips and frizzy hair. The association between the painful Dutch colonial history and blackface tradition is evident to most of the Dutch descendants of Africans and rising numbers of Dutchmen are in favor of a change of the tradition. Even so, the tradition is rooted in Dutch culture and many want it to stay that way.

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