Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sinterklaas & his rainbow helpers

Back in the day when I was a little kid December was he most exciting month of the year. Sinterklaas would come into town, Zwarte Pieten would look round and watch if I was being good. Each day I would but my shoe underneath the weird prop fire place and stuff it with carrots and little drawings. It was a good way to improve my creative skills, very productive I was back then. And every morning I would check my shoe to see if there would be a present waiting for me.

My parents were not big fans of this Dutch children's holiday. They rather celebrated Christmas with me and my brothers so I usually ended up with a new pair of undies and some pyjama's. That was the depth of Sinterklaas for me: receiving presents.

Nowadays there is a big discussion going on about the Sinterklaas tradition. Some people are offended by 'Zwarte Pieten.' The traditional black (painted) helpers Sinterklaas brings along on a boat. Why do they have to be black though? I see a direct link to our Dutch VOC history, lot's of people are greatly proud of, but it is embarrassing lot's of Dutch people have no clue about our real history, the damage, the misuse of power, the slavery the Netherlands was involved in. It is in fact a direct link to our slavery past. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to be white, to be Dutch. When you travel you can see the depth of it. Who am I to judge if people feel offended. They sure have the right to feel what they feel. Racism is still a big part of society and every day life for some of us. (read about P's story here, written by Charlotte Simons) We can teach our children a different lesson, a different tradition.

So this year I have made a new series of designs for this Dutch holiday. Showing this tradition is about color, in fact every color. Embrace diversity. I created a print with traditional Zwarte Piet helpers but also included other colors for their skin. If it is up to me if should be a rainbow of color. Cuz when you can have a rainbow... nothing wrong with a rainbow here. Why limit yourself to black only when there is so much more to choose from?

What should have been a cute kids holiday has a bitter taste to it. Why not take the bitterness away? Why not be a little flexible when it comes to other people's feelings? Isn't that what a holiday or tradition is all about? Celebrate being together and appreciating others? Isn't that what you'd like to teach to your kids? To keep things the way they are because we always have been doing things a certain way is the most ridiculous reason to keep this tradition as is. We evolve, that's what's part of life. Let's make this thing a bit less offensive.