The Ghost of Christmas Past

I have to tell you that I was not raised with any belief in Father Christmas or Santa Claus — Dutch kids believe in Sint Nicolaas, a man dressed as a somewhat garish Catholic bishop, in whose name Americans can find the origin of their Saint Nick. Saint Nicholas’ birthday is on December 6th, and the night before he goes from rooftop to rooftop on a white horse and distributes presents through chimneys, helped by his Moorish helper. Now that helper, Zwarte Piet or Black Pete has caused some concern, as they are clearly cartoonish black people played by white folk in blackface. Every year there is some discussion about that. But hey, it’s tradition.

That said, we see enough Anglo-American culture to notice the similarities – old man, white beard, presents, kids sitting on his lap… but wait. Kids sitting on his lap? Surely not. Selfridges in the UK has sacked Santa for inviting a grandmother to sit on his lap. And she complained, the old hag. That’s what a heartless old trollop with way too much imagination and a penchant for being the center of attention does when she gets half a chance. Damn the Christmas Spirit, full steam ahead!

As it turns out, Selfridges ‘made clear to potential Santas during their training that no one should sit on Santa’s lap and Santas must certainly not “promote or proactively seek” anyone to do so’. What on Earth were they thinking? Well… they were hoping not to offend anyone, obviously. That young father who thinks everyone lusts after his spotty, grotty little girl for example. And the grandmother who thinks all those young men look at her because she’s such a stunner – not realising it’s the clash of bold animal prints and the stench of too much Venezia which is making heads turn.

Something is lost here – something more than got lost when people started to complain about old Saint Nick’s blackfaced helpers. We’ve created a society which is afraid to offend anyone. That manager should have told that old lady that she must be stark raving bonkers to complain about Santa wanting her to sit on her lap – because that is what Santa does. Get with the program or stay away from Santas altogether.

Maybe us normal people should start being loudly and obnoxiously offended at all this. Because we never asked for a foam padded, airbagged, crash-helmeted safety party. We want our Christmas back. Don’t offend us – we’re still the majority.



  1. A few corrections, if I may; the American Santa Claus is a literal rendering of the Dutch Sinterkloas, and the horse isn’t white but gray. On this subject one should write should very carefully, as the smallest mistake makes you eligible for the sack of Sinterkloas and a one way trip to Spain, not to mention the pack on your metre with the rod.

  2. Ha! As you know, Sinterklaas does not come to Italy, so I am not afraid of him. We have another belief system here, in which a German dressed in a white frock gives us ‘blessings’ all the time. But you can’t eat a blessing or play with it. Typical German gifts… my dad would call it ‘Ersatz’.

  3. Rob,

    You make a mistake about the Moorish helpers, Black Petes. Or not really a mistake. In the original tale Saint Nicolas had one single helper, a moorish fellow in bright clothes with a feather on his cap. But the story has changed in Dutch folklore to many helpers who are not Moorisch, but just plain old people (of any ethnicity possible) who climb through chimneys and thereby get so much soot on them they turn completely black. This is advantageous if the blackface happens te smear out or fade or in rain wash off… you just say that the soot is coming off… finally!

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