Posts Tagged Christmas
I have spent two Christmases far away from home and I have to confess these were not the best Christmases I ever had. The topsy-turvy weather (I come from a country with a warm Christmas), not having my parents’ food, not having my parents, all contributed to this. This year I am once again at home and I will be celebrating Christmas with my family. I am content. But having spent time in the Netherlands, and having appreciated their strange Christmas traditions, I wondered what the reverse might feel like. That is how my latest story, Not an Afrikaner, was born.
Not an Afrikaner is the story of a Dutch man married to a South African woman and living in South Africa. He has to try to explain the strange custom of Zwarte Piet (I wrote about the controversy of this tradition here), face his unaccommodating and racist mother-in-law, and the unseasonably warm weather. This is a story for anyone who has to spend Christmas away from the country of his birth, but who can nevertheless learn to appreciate the otherness of his new home.
This is going to be in many ways a sad Christmas for South Africa with our great leader, Madiba, having just passed away. However, in the wake of his passing, I believe we will come to a greater understanding the of the extraordinary qualities of South Africa. This is something to celebrate.
The Dutch have many strange traditions. Perhaps one of the strangest is that of Zwarte Piet. Where Santa Claus in many countries has elves, in the Netherlands Sinterklaas has Zwarte Pieten, which is to say Black Peters. Men(and women) put on black face, paint their lips red and thick, and put on garish costumes reminiscent of those black slaves used to wear. The Black Peters are Santa’s helpers. They hand out “pepernoten”, ginger biscuits that the Dutch love, and they perform comedy and acrobatic acts. The Zwarte Piet tradition is one that would have you denounced as racist in South Africa (you may well end up in trouble with the law), but in the Netherlands Zwarte Piet is entrenched and accusations of racism have not (yet) killed this tradition.