Dutch municipalities are not jumping at the opportunity to organize the national arrival of Sinterklaas. State broadcaster NTR has sent an urgent letter to the Dutch Association of Mayors with a request to participate, RTL News reported.
And only a few municipalities have shown interest so far, says a spokesman for the NTR quoted by RTL Nieuws.
The NTR broadcasts the children’s party every year organised by the host municipality. In the letter, which is in the hands of RTL Nieuws, it states that until last year there were always several municipalities that submitted a request to the NTR to host the festival. It was not the case this year.
Ajé Boschhuizen wrote on behalf of the NTR to the Dutch Society of Mayors (NGB) on 7 March: “To date, no municipality has yet reported. We can only guess at the causes of this. Of course, we could wait and see if a municipality responds in the near future, but that is – in view of the long preparation time of such a large-scale project – rather risky with a view to planning.”
In recent years, things have not been going smoothly. Last year campaigners from Zwarte Piet blocked the A7 motorway at Joure. In 2016, a large anti-colonialist group was arrested for ignoring a demonstration ban.
If no municipality comes forward soon, the festival may not be able to continue. “There may well be mayors among your colleagues who would like to celebrate this wonderful party with us on Saturday, November 17, 2018. We therefore hope that you would like to submit this question to them on our behalf. As said, time is beginning to run out.”
The letter was read during a meeting of the Dutch Association of Mayors last week, according to RTL News. Sixty mayors were present at that meeting. All other mayors will also receive the letter urging them to save Sinterklaas.
The arrival of Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet, is always broadcast live on television but in the past few years the event has been beset by protests against the blackface Zwarte Piet.
Boschhuizen added: “Of course, we don’t want a 66-year-old Dutch national television tradition to end this way, which is why I am asking you to help us.”
The appeal for help has now resulted in a few municipalities coming forward as potential hosts and talks are currently underway, according to Dutch daily De Telegraaf. Last year’s arrival in the Friesland town of Dokkum was marred when pro-Piet supporters blocked a highway to keep protesters out.
The bearded Sinterklaas traditionally wears a long red cape and carries a ceremonial shepherd’s staff and he rides into town on a white horse. In the Netherlands, the horse is called Amerigo, and in Belgium, it is named Slecht Weer Vandaag[Bad Weather Today]. Sinterklaas carries a big, red book in which is written whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year.
He is assisted by companions or Zwarte Piete carrying bags of sweets which they toss around to the delight of the youngsters. The tradition dates back at least as far as the early 19th Century.
In the older Sinterklaas tradition, songs mention naughty children being put in Zwarte Piet’s bag and being taken back to Spain. The legend refers to the time of the Moors who raided the European coasts as far as Iceland, abducting the local people into slavery.
In a 2013 survey published in De Telegraaf, 92 percent of the Dutch public did not perceive Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery, and 91 percent were opposed to altering the character’s appearance.
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