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Festival cancellation unnecessary

Dear Editor: Recently I heard that the Sinterklaas festivities, which are an annual event at the Westminster Quay in New Westminster, have been cancelled due to complaints by the African-Canadian community here in the Lower Mainland.

Dear Editor:

Recently I heard that the Sinterklaas festivities, which are an annual event at the Westminster Quay in New Westminster, have been cancelled due to complaints by the African-Canadian community here in the Lower Mainland.

Sinterklaas is the Dutch, German, Belgian and Flanders French version of North America's Santa Claus. In fact, Sinterklaas or Saint Nicolaas was the precursor to Santa Claus and has been a tradition in northern European countries for generations. He is said to hail from Spain, where he lives throughout the year (much like Santa Claus lives at the North Pole), and he arrives by boat in early December and brings gifts to good girls and boys in the early morning hours of Dec. 6 (purportedly his birthday).

The character of Sinterklaas is based on a real saint from the third century, Saint Nicolaas of Greece, the patron saint of children and seafarers (thus his arrival by ship). His helpers are black because, at the time, Spain was part of the Moors' empire.

Zwarte Piet was a slave who, when Sinterklaas bought him his freedom, was so grateful that he stayed to assist him. Today however, the more

politically correct explanation that Piet's face is "black from soot" (as Piet has to climb through chimneys to deliver his gifts) is used.

It strikes me as funny that as a child growing up in the Netherlands there was never an issue with the fact that Sinterklaas had an assistant named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). There were never any thoughts of racist overtones. For generations and generations, not only in Europe but also here in North America and around the world, children have been amazed and excited by the arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, only to have this wonderful tradition soured and destroyed by someone who obviously hasn't read into the entire tradition but has only chosen to look at the negative side.

Bernard Piprah, organizer of the annual Black History Month, said the Black Peter character comes loaded with offensive, racist stereotypes. Yet it is OK for him to host Black History Month. What about those of us that are not black? Seems like a fairly racist thing to be organizing if it cannot include all cultures residing within the Lower Mainland.

I find it shameful that this community event (albeit a European event) has been cancelled due to the racist thoughts of someone who obviously doesn't understand or belong to our community. In the Netherlands, the tradition carries on even though an enormous segment of the Dutch population (far more than here in Canada) is of African or Middle Eastern descent. Those people are not affected by the socalled racist overtones because they see it for what it is: a children's festival.

Is Santa Claus the next one to go because he "enslaves Elves" at the North Pole and makes them make presents for the good girls and boys on Santa's list, or will the SPCA begin protesting because Santa forces his reindeer to pull a sleigh with a big fat guy and presents for the world's children? How about the Gay Pride parade because it is only directed at gay people? Or Diwali or Visakhi? Or the Dragon Boat Festival (a celebration to honour a poet who committed suicide)?

We have already seen "Christmas" taken out of our yearly lives because someone felt it was unfair to use the name "Christ" in the public square and thought it would be better if we called it "the holidays." Christmas trees became "holiday trees," Christmas cards became "holiday cards," and instead of wishing one another a Merry Christmas, we are now expected to say "Happy Holidays."

Well, holidays are when I get on an airplane and fly to a nice warm beach somewhere. Christmas is when I drag a tree into my house and decorate the front lawn and house with corny ornaments and enjoy a few wonderful days with family and friends with good food and drink.

There are numerous events throughout our community from various cultures that may not present well in our society. Are those the next ones to be attacked by people who do not understand their origins and feel they are racist or improper?

It is an absolute shame that we have had to cancel this yearly tradition because of this situation, and I would ask the complainants and the organizers of this event to reconsider their decisions because those decisions have destroyed an annual community event for future generations.

No one has ever complained about the "suggested" racist theme of this event, and in our ever increasingly politically correct world we will soon be facing a life without traditions because we are too afraid that it may insult someone or hurt their feelings.

Roland van Kaauwen, Surrey