Sinterklaas cancelled in New Westminster after concerns about blackface characters
A Dutch holiday celebration in New Westminster has been cancelled in the wake of a complaint about how it portrays people of African descent.
Sinterklaas was to take place at Holland Shopping Centre on Saturday (December 3).
The New Westminster News Leader reported that a man named Roger Jones objected to including a character known as Black Peter, who marches with Sinterklaas in the festival.
People who play this role cover their faces in black makeup, which is reminiscent of how racist American shows portrayed people of African descent in a bygone era.
The Sinterklaas website carries the following message:
Dear fellow members of the Dutch community,
We regret to inform you that the Sinterklaas celebrations for 2011, at the New Westminster Quay as well as at the Holland Shopping Centre have been CANCELLED.
We thank you all for your input in the Zwarte Piet discussion, and we encourage the community to keep up their Sinterklaas tradition.
For those of you who feel this is a great loss, we agree. We too are greatly saddened by the events of the past few weeks.
The Sinterklaas Event Organizers
The holiday celebrates the birthday of Sint Nicolaas (also known as Sinterklaas), a kind Spanish bishop. It has been traditionally commemorated in the Netherlands on the evening of December 5. Sinterklaas arrives on a steamship accompanied by a valet, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), and other helpers.
According to the Amsterdam Tourism website, the names of naughty children are written in a large book, which Black Peter keeps for Sint Nicolaas. The kids "also know quite well that Black Peter carries a rod with him as well as a huge burlap sack, large enough for naughty children to be taken along to Spain".
Legend has it that Peter is black because he enters homes through chimneys to hand out candy and other treats.
According to the 2006 census, there were 2,335 people of African descent living in the federal riding of Burnaby–New Westminster. There were another 1,390 people of African descent living in the next-door riding of New Westminster–Coquitlam.