Bob Groeneveld's opinion [White guy, black slave_ racist?, Nov. 27 Odd Thoughts, Langley Advance], is unfortunately not getting the facts straight.
The origins of the Sinterklaas/Black Peter tradition had nothing to do with slavery and racism. I find it highly questionable when a newspaper distributes a fantasy story and sells it as fact in the context of controversial issues.
I wonder whether he has an axe to grind with his Dutch background.
The real origin behind the black Peter and Sinterklaas traditions is printed below and goes back many centuries:
How did this people's saint in priestly garb become identified with Christmas? The reformation frowned upon the cult of saints, but Nicholas had become too deeply rooted an institution to wither away. His feast day, celebrated on December 6, the day on which he is believed to have died, gradually turned into a young folk's festival.
In many European countries, children would play pranks on their elders, and grown-ups would distribute gifts in Nicholas' name. No one can tell when the first "Saint Nicholas" walked into a well-warmed parlour, tossing nuts and apples to children.
It is with the Vikings that the story began. Their God named Odin rode throughout the world in the winter on his eight-footed horse, Sleipnir, giving out gifts or punishment. His sun Thor, god of farming, thunder and war made his home in the far North. His weapon was the lightning rod, his colour was red.
While his father went about the world, Thor fought the Gods of ice and snow and conquered the cold. During the same season, the gentle German Goddess Hertha came down with her gifts of good fortune and health.
In the Germanic north of Europe, where memories of pagan deities lingered deep below the Christian surface, the bishop became mixed up with still existing pagan beliefs: bishop's robe became a long red winter coat, the miter turned into a fur cap.
St. Nicholas has traditionally brought gifts to German children on the eve of his feast day, December 6. He traveled with a dark-faced companion, often a frightening figure, known variously as Krampus, Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Hans Muff, Bartel, or Gumphinkel. Most commonly the companion was called Knecht Ruprecht, and carried and bundle of switches.
After the reformation, authorities frowned upon the idea of having a character representing the bishop/saint distributing gifts. As a result, St. Nick's modern incarnation, Santa Claus, was born, complete with long white beard, red suit, and sleigh.
St. Nick is known by various names in different regions of Germany including Klaasbuur, Burklaas, Rauklas, Bullerklaas, and Sunnercla. In eastern Germany, where the Santa figure remains more connected with his pagan past, he is called Ash Man, Shaggy Goat, or Rider.
Today, he is increasingly known as Father Christmas throughout Germany, and appears not on St. Nicholas Day Eve, but on Christmas Eve.
Children in Germany trembled before the annual visit of the Weinachtsmann, carrying gifts for good children and birch twigs with which to punish the naughty ones.
Various sinister companions might accompany the Weinachtsmann, notably the child gobbler, a specialist in biting off heads. Those people gave Nicholas a white horse, previously owned by the God Wodan, along with Wodan's spear, which they later transformed with a curl at the top.
The wavy beard and cape were also the property of Wodan, who is now cold and horseless.
Nicholas was named Sankt Herr Klaas, which the Dutch transformed to Sinterklaas and the English to Saint Nick.
For Wodan and his son Oel, the Germanics used to lay presents under the smoke hole of their medieval houses, hoping that they would be rewarded by their god with new fertility, with life, and with spring.
Oel went by the houses to receive these presents, or to punish those who deserved such. He entered the house through the smoke hole, through which his face was darkened by the soot.
After the tenth century Oel, received a mortal name: Peter (black Peter) and became the boy servant to Nicholas. In olden days, young people were touched with bundles of twigs during initiation ceremonies, so as to give them growing strength and fertility. From then onwards, they were treated as adults and were allowed to marry. The bundle of twigs used by Black Peter nowadays to deliver taps to his left and right are still a remainder of that old practice.
The origin of the sack, carried around by Black Peter for St. Nicholas, which scares the Dutch children out of their wits time and time again, comes from the German belief that, when the morning light appears, the moon was being put in a bag. The next day it was out again, so that it could restart its climb to the heavens.
This is why Peter carries that bag; Saint Nicholas with his white beard symbolizes the full moon and Peter with his soot black face symbolizes the new moon, the one that's gone in the sack.
In many parts of the Old World, St. Nicholas Day and Christmas blended into a single treat, and the old man of Myra marched on as jolly patron of a cheerful and expectant season.
During and after the Reformation, Calvinists started to resist the Saint Nicholas celebrations. Reformers did everything they could to erase the popular saint, but they never succeeded.
Even though he was removed from the (reformed) church, Saint Nicholas continued his popularity.
All spice cookie dolls and assorted candy, typically baked for these celebrations, were in violation of the second of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not make graven images_" Laws were even made against the festivities. The saint and his accompanying activities had to disappear.
In actuality, this bothered not many people. The festivities, however, did gradually move indoors, rather than being celebrated in the market places. Saint Nicholas was not suppressible.
The German Weinachtsmann has more resemblance to the English American Santa Claus than to Saint Nicholas.
The different Santas worldwide were arrayed in every colour of the rainbow, sometimes even in black. But they all had long white beards and carried gifts for the children.
I kindly request you to set the record straight and grant the Dutch community with a corrected version.
Frans Dullemond, via email
[Note: A lengthy treatise on Sinterklaas's history is online at www.langleyadvance.com. Click on Opinion, or search the writer's name.]
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