Forget About Black Peter?????

IMG_4922Tomorrow is St. Nicolas Eve.  In The Netherlands and around the world children of Dutch heritage will be setting out their wooden shoes.  They will be going to bed not with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads but rather of pepernoten, taai-taai and chocolate letters. Yet in the larger world the feast of St. Nicolas is not conjuring up images of innocent children snuggling into bed with excited anticipation of tomorrow’s festivities but rather accusations of racism centered on the character of Black Peter.  All this makes me wonder if in all the controversy we have forgotten whose feast it is.

It is interesting that the Dutch people so known for their tolerant ways are remaining stubbornly ethnocentric on this point. I myself come from a family that crossed racial lines a long time ago. My blue eyed, blond haired Aunt Elsie married Uncle Ak, a Japanese Canadian back in the 1960’s already. I also have cousins of Nigerian and Jamaican heritage. I anticipateIMG_4921 the arrival in March of a grand-daughter who I hope will be as proud of her father’s Iraqi heritage as her mother’s Dutch roots. Therefore, I suspect that behind all this resistance to change isn’t so much racist bigotry as the influence of several well-known Dutch characters known as kwajong, Meneer Woodenhead and Mevrouw Eigenwijs. Most of us have heard the phrase: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen.  It describes many old Dutchmen that we know who resist any argument that might precipitate change.  You have also probably met some kwajongen even if you didn’t realize.  A kwajong is a mischievous boy who likes to pull monkey tricks. But it also describes someone who acts contrary just for the fun of it.  I have been surrounded by wooden headed kwajongen all my life. I know the tricks they are usually up to. And not to deny Dutch women a place, how many of us haven’t been called “eigenwijs”? I certainly have been called that when I have acted like I knew better than anyone else. So given the Dutch character(s) I am not at all surprised about the “push back” that is happening about Black Peter not just in The Netherlands but also among Dutch Canadians. But in all of this I think we have forgotten what St. Nicolas Day is all about.

The veneration of St. Nicolas can be traced back for more than 1000 years. Christmas caroling door to door and the mysterious, mythical appearance of gifts all have their origin in the traditional celebration of St. Nicolas’s feast day. In The Netherlands the saint is known as Sinterklaas. When I was growing up it didn’t matter if you were from a Dutch Catholic, Protestant or atheist family…everyone celebrated Sinterklas. How that came to be is explored in our article “The Amazing Survival of St. Nick”.  Black Peter or Zwarte Piet as he is known in The Netherlands never showed up in print until 1850 when a poem by an Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman: Sint-Nikolaas en zijn knecht (“St. Nicholas and His Servant”)IMG_4929  was published. The Zwarte Piet tradition can be traced back to the early 19th century but doesn’t have the same old roots as St. Nicolas. One theory traces Black Peter to German myths. St. Nicolas’s white horse is not part of the original Christian tradition but is believed to have been derived from the myth of the German god Oden who traveled through the skies on a white stallion. In the Oden myth, the god is accompanied by several black ravens. In real life, St.Nicolas was a bishop of Turkey who never saw the shores of Spain, may never seen a Moor and was unlikely to have had a slave considering his compassion for the poor.

Today Sinterklaas’ popularity has extended beyond Christendom to people of other cultural and religious heritages.  In a Cafebabel article says:

Like many EU countries, the Netherlands has recently seen shifting demographics due to sustained immigration from countries such as Turkey and Morocco. To gauge the appeal of Sinterklaas among these newcomers, a number of Dutch-born high schoolers with one or more immigrant parent were asked for their thoughts. Of fifteen respondents living in the suburbs of Amsterdam and The Hagueten were raised muslimone was raisedhindu, and four grew up in non-religious households. Regardless of religion, the teenagers all confessed to believing in Sinterklaas as children, and all of them celebrated at school. Over half of the muslim-raised respondents even reported celebrating Sinterklaas with their families at home, in spite of islam’s prohibition against the observance of non-muslim holidays. Despite its roman catholic trappings, all but one of these students viewed Sinterklaas as a nonreligious cultural celebration.

Sinterklaas has become everyone’s saint. In spite of his “sectarian origins” he has universal appeal. I believe his survival of the Reformation and his appeal to so many people is rooted in the generosity that he represents. In a world reeling from news reports of terrorist attacks and sectarian war, we have this figure who reminds all of us to be a bit more gracious. I don’t think we should forget about Black Peter but perhaps in all the uproar about him we have forgotten what the feast of St. Nicolas celebrates:  the life of a man who gave generously to the poor without wanting any thanks. Black Peter is a fun character whose medieval page costume is bright and extravagant. He doesn’t need  blackface to maintain his appeal. A few smears of soot will do the job. Perhaps it is time we all gave a bit.


St. Nick is coming to town!

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No matter what you call him: Santa Claus, Joulupukki, Père Noël, St. Nick, Sinterklas, Jultomten, Mikulás, Weihnachtsmann,  Julenissen, Ded Moroz, Mos Craciun, Siôn Corn…tomorrow he’s coming to Welland.

For some he is a mythical magical figure, for others a historic person with a reputation for generosity or a revered saint. For almost everyone but the most die-hard Scrooge, he represents the spirit of giving.

Tomorrow in Welland, the Downtown Welland Business Development (BIA) Board will be sponsoring our annual Santa Claus parade.  I will be walking the route handing out candies and coupons for the European Pantry. We hope to see you there! It starts a 4 pm.

Learn more about the history of Santa Claus here.

Welcome Dragon Boat Racers of the World!

IMG_4193  The European Pantry is sending Three Thousand Welcomes to our Dragon Boat visitors coming to Welland AugustIMG_4190 19-23 to participate in the 12th World Dragon Boat Championships.

A warm welcome was tied into each of the little invites.  We hope your visit to Welland will be enjoyable.  We wish you all smooth waters and speed as you paddle your way to distinction!


Please drop by our Pantry andIMG_4215 introduce yourselves so we can personally welcome you to Welland. We would love to hear where you are from!  On the back of each card you will find a coupon for some sweet savings and a map of our location. Come and explore our wide selection of cheeses and European imports!

Lest we forget the sacrifice…

IMG_3602Those of us who are the children of Dutch post war immigrants grew up not only under the shadow of World War Two but also with a profound sense of appreciation for the sacrifices Canadians made to liberate The Netherlands.  On May 5 Liberation Day will be celebrated again.  This year marks the 70th anniversary! Seventy years ago Dutch citizens pulled all their Dutch and orange flags out of hiding and flew them with overwhelming joy from their roof tops as the Canadian troops paraded through the streets.  We are honoured to have these orange t-shirts available to remember that special day. Come by the Pantry for yours.

Weaving it together locally in Welland

IMG_3591Bernice Thibeault of the Niagara Handweavers and Spinners came by to check out our new tea towel designs. The weavers meet every Thursday at the Welland Historical Museum.  Join them at 9 am to see what they are up to. A $40 membership provides  lessons in weaving and allows you to join in at the looms each week.  It also gives you a year membership at the Welland Historical Museum.  You can pick up a pamphlet there.

Hearty Foods …it’s that time of year!

IMG_1987We are all craving soups, stews and stamppot  (Dutch mashed potato dishes) at this time of year.  Check out these “cool” pictures of our corner of Ontario today. John shoveled our sign out of the snow at 7 am and it’s piling up again


I walked next door to the Welland Farmers’ Market to see how the vendors were faring.


The folks from Haist Farms were selling apples and hot cider…love this display!IMG_3231IMG_3232IMG_3233Fresh meaning to “frosted baked goods”!

It was much warmer inside, especially with the Annual Chili Cook-Off happening! IMG_3237IMG_3239 IMG_3254Our panel of judges included Deputy Mayor of Welland, Pat Chiocchio (who was taking no chances at staying warm!), Cindy Forster, local MPP, Malcolm Allen, our voice on Parliament Hill, and Counselor Bonnie Fokkens who represents the Welland Market at city hall. Dan Fortier’s first place finish not withstanding, Mr. Arnold Steve definitely earned bragging rights by snagging both 2nd and 3rd places with his mild and hot chili entries! IMG_3266IMG_3268 Welland Farmers’ Market has a long history.  Many of the vendors have been coming out for years. “The Flowerman” first came to the market 57 years ago to help his father sell vegetables. Now his daughter, like many market families, is continuing the tradition into the next generation.


So the market is open!  I didn’t have time to check out the rest of the market in the other building…maybe next week.  And if you come to the market, don’t forget to drop by The European Pantry.  We are right next door…where you will find all the fixings for those hearty winter meals!

Gift Baskets can put a smile on faces.


A very happy girl, and her sister picked up her gift basket today. Kendra’s name was pulled in our anniversary gift basket draw.  I’m sure she will be sharing her winnings with the rest of the family but she got to pick out a special towel which will be just for her…as she told her sister!


Our thanks to Pastor Andrew of the local Welland Brethren in Christ Church for doing the honours and pulling the winning name.

Check out our new line of DDDDD tea towels and hand towels that just came in.  And don’t forget that we make beautiful custom gift baskets.  Put a smile on someone’s face today…or surprise them soon for Christmas!