By Bob Groeneveld
Like nearly all Canadian children of Dutch immigrants, I grew up with the pre-Christmas tradition of Sinterklaas.
It’s early to be talking about Christmas, but hang with me a bit. The election figures in my tale.
Canadians of Dutch heritage reading this are already cringing, because they know where I’m headed.
English-speaking Canadians are more likely to know Sinterklaas as Santa Claus.
But there are differences between them.
Like our benevolent Santa, Sinterklaas rewards good little boys and girls with toys and goodies.
Santa makes his deliveries via a magical sleigh ride on Christmas Eve. Sinterklaas hands out candies and oranges from horseback as he rides through town on Dec. 6.
Both traditions are aimed at keeping children in line. Santa has no gifts for “bad” kids.
And Sinterklaas is followed by Zwarte Piet, who in the version my parents related, gives “bad” children a lump of coal, but in a harsher version of the tradition, Sinterklaas’s sidekick stuffs bad kids into a sack and takes them away to suffer eternal punishment.
Zwarte Piet – or Black Peter, in English – is a slow-witted black dwarf or child, usually portrayed in parades and celebrations by a person in blackface. Sinterklaas is always white as the driven snow, sporting a white beard, and even his horse is always snow white.
When the Lower Mainland’s annual Sinterklaas Parade was moved to Langley in 2012, because New Westminster, the parade’s host for decades, decided it was racist, my first thought was, “Racist? Nonsense! What could possibly be racist about a tradition in which a cool white guy rewards good and nice children with candies and parties, while the bad children are left to be mistreated by a nasty little gnarled black… oh, wait… maybe New West has something there.”
I like to believe that my eyes were opened a bit, and that I grew a little.
I don’t believe people are bad when they unwittingly do bad things, like buy into the cultural racism of the Zwarte Piet insult.
But it’s still bad, and I believe I’m a better person now that I know and have divorced myself from that tradition.
People are saying that Trudeau made his brown- and blackface transgressions at a time when most Canadians were less aware of the damage. Canada has grown since then, and gotten a little (certainly not enough yet) better.
From his actions – and his immediate and effusive apologies – Trudeau appears to have grown with his country.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, days after revelation of her association with a black-face Zwarte Piet event – many years more recent that any of Trudeau’s transgressions – neither a Cloverdale-Langley Conservative candidate nor her party leader have apologized or even disavowed that racist tradition.
There are bigger fish to fry in the upcoming election – like whether or not there will be fish for my grandchildren’s children to fry.
Still, I’d just like to see evidence that all of our leaders can grow.