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Zwarte piet

The meaning of «zwarte piet»

Zwarte Piet (pronounced [ˈzʋɑrtə ˈpit], Dutch for "Black Pete"; Luxembourgish: Schwaarze Péiter, Indonesian: Pit Hitam, West Frisian: Swarte Pyt) is the companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas, West Frisian: Sinteklaas, Luxembourgish: Kleeschen, Indonesian: Sinterklas) in the folklore of the Low Countries. The earliest known illustration of the character comes from an 1850 book by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman in which he was depicted as a black Moor from Spain.[1] According to folklore, the skin of Zwarte Piet is colored by soot from going down chimneys to bringing presents into people's houses.[2][3] Those portraying Zwarte Piet usually put on blackface and colourful Renaissance attire in addition to curly wigs and bright red lipstick.[4][5][6][7][8][9] In recent years, the character has become the subject of controversy.

The Zwarte Piet character is part of the annual Feast of St. Nicholas that is celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond, which is known as St. Nicholas' Eve in English) in the Netherlands and Aruba. This is when presents and sweets are traditionally distributed to children. The holiday is celebrated on 6 December in Belgium.[10] The Zwarte Piet characters appear only in the weeks before the Feast of Saint Nicholas, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, having traveled from Madrid, Spain). The tasks of the various Zwarte Piets (Zwarte Pieten in Dutch) are mostly to amuse children and to distribute kruidnoten, pepernoten, and other strooigoed (special Sinterklaas-themed sweets) to those who come to meet the saint as he visits schools, stores, and other places.

According to Hélène Adeline Guerber and other historians,[11][12] the origin of Sinterklaas and his helpers have been linked by some to the Wild Hunt of Odin. While riding the white horse Sleipnir, he flew through the air as the leader of the Wild Hunt. He was always accompanied by two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn.[13] These helpers would listen, just like Zwarte Piet, at the chimneys of the homes they visited to tell Odin about the good and bad behavior of the mortals below.[14][15]

The Saint Nicholas tradition contains a number of elements that are not ecclesiastical in origin.[16][3] In medieval iconography, Saint Nicholas is sometimes presented as taming a chained demon, who may or may not be black. However, no hint of a companion, demon, servant, or any other human or human-like fixed companion to the Saint is found in visual and textual sources from the Netherlands from the 16th until the 19th century.[17] According to a long-standing theory first proposed by Karl Meisen,[18] Zwarte Piet and his equivalents in Germanic Europe were originally presented as one or more enslaved demons forced to assist their captor. These chained and fire-scorched demons may have been redeveloped as black-skinned humans during the early 19th-century in the Netherlands in the likeness of Moors who work as servants for Saint Nicholas.[19] Others believe Zwarte Piet to be a continuation of a custom in which people with blackface appeared in winter solstice rituals.[20]

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