This notorious Christmas character is dividing a country

Neo-Nazis in the Netherlands have responded violently to calls to get rid of Santa's blackface holiday assistant.

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People protesting the Dutch tradition of "Black Pete" turn their backs to a holiday parade in the Netherlands.

This story has been updated to reflect the latest news.

To celebrate December 5, the Dutch St. Nicholas holiday, Netherlanders gather for parades in which the saint (in Dutch, Sinterklass) arrives in town to hand out candy and gifts. But these parades have taken on an increasingly political—and violent—tone this year because of Santa’s traditional blackface sidekick.

In Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas has a “helper” named Zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete,” who usually appears as a blackface character with large gold earrings and exaggerated lips. In the weeks leading up to the saint’s name day, cities and towns host parades featuring hundreds of white people dressed as Piet. Stores stock up with Zwarte Piet costumes, merchandise, and baked goodswhile adults visit children’s homes and schools dressed as Sinterklaas and Piet.

The growing number of Netherlanders who are protesting the tradition of St. Nicholas’ notorious assistant, however, have faced increasing pushback. This year, white supremacists raised Nazi salutes at the Sinterklass parade in Hoorn and flew neo-Nazi flags at the one in Zaandijk. In Eindhoven, an estimated 250 white extremists chanted racist slogans and threw eggs and beer cans at people peacefully protesting the parade. The attacks received national attention, as did Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s statement blaming “extremists on both sides”for the violence.

A Difficult History

European St. Nicks have long had menacing companions like Krampus or Belsnicklewho punish wicked children with much more than a lump of coal. In the Netherlands, the...

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