Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet.

I suppose everybody at some stage in their lives would have experienced a Zwarte Piet. I certainly did. The Zwarte Piet in Holland is what the bogey-man or the Halloween figure is elsewhere. It is a mythical all powerful figure that has an aura of badness as well as some benevolence about ‘it’. I say it, because it has lately been turned in having the possibility of being a female as well. See, how far reaching the female has got? Nothing is now impossible for the fair sex to achieve.

All of those have some kind of pagan history dating back hundreds of years and might even relate to the festivals of the dead or harvests. In earlier times they must have had good parties celebrating the dearly departed as well as having a good harvest. As the pages and centuries marched on relentlessly we must have become a lot more gloomy and pessimistic. There would not be too many celebrating a nice good death by stomping around a bon fire and giving good send-offs. More likely ‘ uncle Harry was a skinflint, good riddance’, as he slowly in his well bolted down casket ( just in case of a bad smell) slides into the warm and welcoming crematorium’s oven.

The idea of the Zwarte Piet in Holland is to make small children behave just a few weeks before the 5th of December when his boss SinterKlaas arrives from Spain on his horse and gallops over rooftops from house to house to drop jute bags of presents down the chimney for those that have passed the test of good behavior. I always passed the test, hence was always supplied with lots of grey hand knitted socks and sometimes a ball that would bounce.

The whole idea of those kind of figures has probably been invented as a pedagogical tool for large families to have some kind of hold over small children. A kind of psychological cane: if you don’t do as you are told, ‘no socks or ball.’

The evenings of the 5th of Dec were for me the most exciting events of my life and not much has exceeded those nail biting evenings ever since. Let me explain!

Zwarte Piet was the helper of Sinterklaas; a bishop from Spain, who, legend has it, would sometimes eat naughty children as well as give presents to good children. Do you get where I am going now? Of course, I wasn’t a fool even though I had some sympathy for those so very hungry, they would eat anything even naughty children! The war was still warm with ruins still smoldering.

Boy, did I do what my mother asked me for. Wash up the spoons while standing on a box, tidy my room and not forget to wipe my bum. The evening of the 5th was most spine tingling. Of course, December is already gloomy and Europe at its darkest. Storms were usually howling and we prayed Sinterklaas would be able to manoevre his horse over windswept rooftops. Soon, the dreaded knock on our door announced Zwarte Piet had arrived. A black gloved hand would slowly appear around the front door. He would bang louder and louder and we kids would hide under mum’s skirt. A somewhat daunting experience, but we were scared witless! Even though my behavior had been faultless the preceding weeks, you just never knew! Would I end up being eaten?

Zwarte Piet would then throw handfuls of ‘pepernoten’ (a kind of hard dog-kibble like clove and cinnamon laced type of biscuits around the room. This was the moment I had been good for all those long weeks. On hand and knees, I crawled, totally possessed, around the room fighting off my competing brothers tooth and nail for the most handfuls.

When all this subsided and we were weary from being good and battled out we would finally take a peek around the door. Lo and behold a large jute type of coal bag with the presents was left behind. Oddly enough, my dad would then suddenly appear. It was a couple of years later when this dream was shattered when told that Zwarte Piet was really my dad.

So it always goes, dreams are beholden by the child till stolen by adults.

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5 Responses to “Zwarte Piet”

  1. lonia scholvinck Says:

    Helemaal goed, je laat me weer lachen!


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Goed, daar ben ik erg blij mee. Veel dank.


  3. Tincup Says:

    What a great piece! Guess it is Santa Clause out here…but I like yours better…be good or be eaten…lol.

    My grandfather expressed his wishes that upon death we hold a celebration and drink to his departure and talk of the happy and fun moments around his life. We upheld his wishes. There was no funeral.


  4. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Very interesting of all the different names for Santa. I am learning about Holland a little at a time.


  5. berlioz1935 Says:

    Zwarte Piet, Black Peter or Schwarzer Peter in Germany.

    In Germany it is just a card game in which pairs of cards are discarded when they come to hand. But there is one, namely the “Black Peter” who can’t be paired of. When all the pairs have been discarded someone is left with the “Black Peter”. That means who gets it is the loser. It is synonymous with having been dealt a bad hand of cards.

    Thank you for telling us one Dutch custom.


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