(Reuters) – The Dutch see themselves as tolerant pragmatists, especially adaptable if social harmony or commercial interests demand it.
But that self-image has taken a battering in recent weeks as a growing chorus of voices inside and outside the country protest against a Christmas tradition that many Dutch see as harmless fun but critics say is racist.
According to the folklore, Saint Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November accompanied by his servant Black Pete – a part usually played by a white man in “blackface” with a curly wig and large, red-painted mouth.
Now the Dutch are being forced to confront the possibility that their enormously popular Christmas tradition might point to a latent racism which many thought was anathema to their culture.
Few debates have stirred such emotion among the cool-headed Dutch. Millions flocked to “like” a Facebook page backing Black Pete after an independent expert who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council criticized the tradition.