European Children’s Nightmare Before X-mas, and the Black Man Who Makes it Happen

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I have been learning about a Swiss tradition around Christmas time. On December 6, people celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. Adults dress like Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, and give out sweets and other treats to good kids. What happens to bad kids? More on that later.

I was talking about this Swiss tradition to a fellow school parent and friend, who is from The Hague. He told me the Dutch have a similar tradition, but they do their Santa Claus-ing on December 5. And in the Dutch custom, Santa has a side-kick, a grown-up muscled enforcer, who deals with bad kids. The name of Santa’s not-so-little helper? Zwarte Piet. Which translates into… Black Pete. The legend has it that Black Pete was a devil captured by Saint Nicholas, shackled and made his slave.

So maybe you’re thinking, gee, that could possibly be construed as well, maybe a little racist.

One more thing: The Dutch person accompanying Santa Claus as Black Pete is in black face.

I told this story to other parents at school, who nodded knowingly and then told me the Swiss do the same. They said Switzerland’s Black Pete is also the Bad Cop to Santa’s Good Cop. The person dressed like Santa Claus and the person in black face dressed like Black Pete stalk the streets on December 6, saintly Santa handing out goodies while Black Pete chases bad children around with a broomstick.

If only it stopped there.

According to Swiss lore, Black Pete’s work really begins after he says good night to Santa Claus. It is then that Black Pete goes full Charles Bronson, meting out his own brand of vigilante justice to naughty children. He hunts down and grabs the children from their homes, neighborhoods and streets — he will find every bad kid — and drags them into the forest. And then things truly turn Nightmare Before Christmas.

Picture a criminally insane, psychotic, mad-dog-angry, hell-bent-on-destruction, Scrooge-bitter bad-ass motherfucker pumped on steroids, jacked on PCP, paint thinner, and crystal meth, with an insatiable rage and a mandate to Do Whatever It Takes to punish the naughty. No child is coming out of that forest the same as when they went in.

Hope you’ve been good. Happy Saint Nicholas Day.

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