Zwarte Piet: Dutch cities diversifying; smaller towns mostly sticking to blackface

Sinterklaas
. Sinterklaas entry tour. Source: Flickr/Sander van der Wel

As the Netherlands' Sinterklaas celebrations approaches, municipalities are starting to reveal their plans on how they're dealing with controversial character Zwarte Piet. Most of the municipalities are sticking to blackface or dark brown makeup, according to AD's Piet Atlas. Amsterdam and The Hague will have no blackface Piets, with Amsterdam also designing a completely new costume. Utrecht plans mostly Chimney Piets - with faces covered in soot marks - and a few traditional blackface Piets. Rotterdam is keeping its plans secret until the day before the celebration.

Amsterdam designed a completely new costume for Sinterklaas' almost 400 Piet helpers this year, the foundation that organizes the celebrations in the Dutch capital SSIA announced on Monday night. The new costumes are based on Spanish noblemen from the 16th century, with bright colors and wigs of dark brown, wavy hair. Amsterdam's Piets will also have a clear Amsterdam stamp - the suits are marked with Andreas Crosses. None of the Piets will have blackface makeup. The new suits are "a means to celebrate the Sinterklaas festival, the most beautiful children's party in the world, in a way that is acceptable for everyone", the SSIA said in a press statement. 

The Hague's Sinterklaas celebration will also only feature Chimney Piets, with varying amounts of soot on their face. "And because one chimney is cleaner than another, it also means that every Piet will look different", a spokesperson for the organizers said to Hart van Nederland. For The Hague, it is important that the Piet actors not be recognized by the kids "If children recognize the Piets, it's not fun for them."

Utrecht will have mostly Chimney Piets, with a few traditional Piets in blackface or dark brown makeup scattered between them. Rotterdam refused to comment on their plans. The Friesland town of Dokkum, which is hosting the national Sinterklaas arrival this year, also refused to comment on Piet's appearance. 

The vast majority of the other municipalities is keeping Piet's appearance traditional with blackface or dark brown makeup, according to AD. The newspaper questioned 272 of the 388 Dutch municipalities' Sinterklaas committees on the appearance of the controversial character. 239 of them said they will use blackface or dark brown Piets. Meppel is the only other Dutch municipality that will have no blackface Piets in its Sinterklaas celebrations. A few municipalities will have a mixture of blackface and Chimney Piets. And a number refused to comment. 

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