A blackface-wearing festive character will remain in a Christchurch Dutch group's Saint Nicholas Day celebration despite controversy.

According to Dutch Folklore, "Black Pete" (Zwarte Piet) was a helper to the Patron Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas ). He's well-known for handing out presents to eager children but nowadays the painted face is also iconic for dividing a nation.

Some argue the present-handler is an innocent but misunderstood tradition, whereas critics believe the use of blackface harks back to slavery and furthers racist stereotypes.

Despite outrage overseas, and continued protests in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Society Christchurch is defending the use of Black Pete because they said he was a traditional part of the silly season.


Entertainment manager Annie van der Dussen said lately there had been big discussions about him, but they weren't considering a change.

"It's gone on for hundreds of years, so why would we change that?"

Black Pete is typically played by white people with black face paint, red lipstick and frizzy black wigs.

She said some critics believed Black Pete was a slave, but they don't see him as a slave and said the "blackface" is from chimney soot gathered during present delivery.

She doesn't believe Black Pete is offensive because "it's always been like that" and people are being just politically correct nowadays.

"In the Netherlands they now have all different sorts of coloured ones because they want to please everyone I suppose, but here we haven't really discussed it and we didn't need to discuss it because it was fine with us."

Anti-racism campaigners took to the streets in the Netherlands last month as part of the "Kick Out Black Pete" movement.

The protests, which were met with counter action from the pro-Black Pete camp who believe the character is a treasured part of the Dutch Psyche.


Although there have been repeated calls from the United Nations to remove the any racist elements from pre-Christmas Dutch festivities, the government has made no moves to abolish the tradition.