THE HAGUE, The Netherlands (AP) – The annual nationwide television arrival in the Netherlands of Sinterklaas, known locally as Sinterklaas, will happen without public fanfare this year amid concerns about the coronavirus, the broadcaster organizing the event announced Wednesday.
Every year, thousands of children and parents take to the streets of the town or city where the event takes place in mid-November to welcome Sinterklaas, who, according to tradition, arrives in the Netherlands by boat in advance of a Christmas-like celebration on December 5.
“In order to prevent the arrival from attracting a large number of people, we believe it is necessary to keep the location secret,” said Dutch public broadcaster NTR in a statement on its website.
The confirmed cases of coronavirus have increased sharply in the Netherlands in recent weeks. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 are also starting to increase, although they remain well below the levels seen during the first wave of the country’s March and April outbreak.
The annual holiday event has been a flashpoint in recent years due to an increasingly polarized debate over the appearance of Saint Nicholas’ helper, known as Zwarte Piet. He is sometimes played by white people who wear blackface makeup, frizzy wigs, and red lipstick.
Critics see Zwarte Piet as a racist caricature, while followers defend him as a traditional child character. Groups of activists from both sides of the debate often come down to the national arrival of Saint Nicholas to demonstrate.
NTR has been gradually changing Black Pete’s look from Black Pete since 2014. The broadcaster said the individuals playing the roles for this year’s show will have ‘sooty’ faces scrambling through chimneys to deliver presents to kids, but not all black. makeup, gold earrings or red lipstick.
The broadcaster said it makes its Sinterklaast themed shows “for all children in the Netherlands. We do this with respect for tradition and with an eye for developments in society. ”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in June that his view of Zwarte Piet had changed, although he maintained that he does not believe the character is racist.
“When I meet people – small children – with a dark skin color who say: ‘I feel incredibly discriminated against because Pete is black’, that’s the last thing you want,” said Rutte in a debate in the Lower House.
“I expect that almost no Petes will be black in the coming years,” the prime minister added. “It’s a popular culture that changes over time and is under pressure from debate in society.”