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I’m actually in Spain writing this, on the island of Gran Canaria. It is late October, and there is unrest in the Catalonia region. While watching the news reports about the rebellious region, I wonder where from Spain Saint Nicholas is actually leaving for the Netherlands with his steamboat. Valencia? Malaga? Or the rebellious Barcelona?

by Rick van der Made - 05 December 2019

length: 4 min. Printer Friendly Page  
The Joyous Month of December

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 4 minuten

We have a strange tradition in the Netherlands. From the fifteenth century on, Dutch children have been told that in November a good saint will arrive from Spain, named Saint Nicholas, who celebrates his birthday on December 5. Late at night on that day, the old man pushes presents down the chimney. He has a steamboat, a white horse and a lot of servants or helpers, called Black Peters.
In recent years, these Black Peters have caused quite a stir. Previously, these helpers have been painted black, with huge red lips, frizzy hair wigs on their head, and large fake gold earrings in their ears. According to many, the image of “the black servant” had to change drastically. And it did. Since 2019 and for the very first time at the national entry of Saint Nicholas, only Peters with soot smears are present. The Caucasian Saint Nicholas now has white servants with some smears of brown make-up on their face.
I think these changes are great. In fact, I do not understand - often against better judgement - why people want to put a stop to changes to routines and customs. Maybe I take a simple approach to these things, but if Catalonia wants to become independent, I have no problem with that. If the Uyghurs want a country of their own, they can get a piece of China, and if the Frisians or people from Brabant suddenly get it into their heads they want to become independent from the Netherlands, I won’t stop them.

I don’t have any affinity with regionalism or patriotism. The only thing I believe in is the voice of the minority, and the power of change this voice comes with. And I believe that within our democratic system the voice of the minority must always be protected, no matter how difficult it is for the majority.

It was a minority who dared to stand up against the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment. It was a minority that initiated the French Revolution It was a minority who started to demonstrate for the women’s right to vote. It was a minority who was in favor of opening up civil marriage to people of the same sex and it was a minority who fought against the obsolete image of Black Peter. Not that every minority is always right or should get what they want, that is up to our parliamentary democracy, and ultimately independent judiciary - but every minority must have the right to express themselves and to be able to say openly what they believe in.
Perhaps it is time for our children - now that the question of Black Peter seems to have a definitive answer - to tell another Saint Nicholas story:

Saint Nicole was in her electric car, while her helper friend Laïla, who had fled from Syria, was cramming the packages behind the solar panels on the roof. Nicole asked Green Ginger, who was sitting in the back of the car and who was in charge of the “Environmentally friendly toys and nitrogen-free packaging” department, if it was perhaps a good idea to no longer tell the story about her origin from Spain, but to come up with something else.

“What do you have in mind,” asked Green Ginger.
“I don’t know,” said Saint Nicole, rubbing her rainbow mitre on the sleeve of her Moroccan kaftan, “Libya?”
Green Ginger looked at her.
“But then we would have been floating around on the Mediterranean for weeks on a boat full of packages without being admitted to Europe?” said Green Ginger somewhat grumbling.
“Perhaps,” Saint Nicole said.
Green Ginger shrugged her shoulders.
“What about Catalonia,” said Green Ginger.
Saint Nicole’s eyes started to shine. She was unstoppable when it came to change.
“Or Uyguria,” continued Green Ginger.
“Kurdistan, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea.”
“Then you’d have to change your name as well,” Green Ginger said.
“Saint Nicolestan,” Nicole exclaimed.
“What a lovely name,” they heard Laïla say. She had opened the car door next to Nicole and sat down next to her.
“Did you hand out all the presents?” Saint Nicole asked.
“Yes, of course! A fair-trade wooden rocking horse at number five, three subscriptions to the World Wildlife Fund at number seven, a child labor-free sweater at number nine, and a recycled Senseo machine at number eleven.”
“Great. Let’s move on,” Nicole said, and kissed Laïla.
“A kiss from Saint Nicole is still the best present,” Laïla said, with a smitten look toward her girlfriend.
“Saint Nicolestan,” said Green Ginger.
“Yes,” said Nicole, “Saint Nicolestan from Catalonia.”

I wish you all a pleasant December month.



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