Some thoughts on various topics . . .
As I have mentioned previously, I am a member of a trivia team, Lazarus (so named after we put the team back together after a few years’ hiatus), which plays each Wednesday night. The team is composed of “oldies” (Wayne, Carol, Kerrie and myself) and “youngies (son Thomas Thomas, his partner Jess and friend Michael). It is a good mix because we know a lot of the older history, entertainment etc and they know the more recent. We oldies always gather earlier to have dinner and chat.
During one such chat last week, the conversation turned to the paltry Christmas decorations that our Council, the Inner West Council, has erected. The Inner West Council is a combination of the former Ashfield, Marrickville and Leichhhardt Councils, merged by the NSW government as part of a Night of the Long Knives compulsory mergers that was suddenly enacted whilst public discussion was still taking place.
The Inner West Council’s contribution to Christmas is to erect decorated Christmas trees at various locations. They look nondescript during the day but a bit better at night.
Apart from that, nothing, zero, zilch.
That in turn touched off a discussion about perceived political correctness by taking the Christian content out of the season so as not to offend different ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. No more nativity scenes, no use of the word “Christmas”, and so on. Apparently the big supermarket chains avoid using the word Christmas. “Christmas trees” have become “holiday trees”, “Merry Christmas” has become “Happy holidays” or “Happy festive season”.
What makes it even more galling and annoying is that the Muslim organisations have repeatedly said: we don’t care, we don’t want it changed, we like it too.
This touched off recollections of what Christmas was like when we were kids.
My contribution was to tell them that they had no idea of Christmas torment, not having been raised in a Dutch household. (I wrote about this some years ago).
My mother, a staunch traditionalist, drummed into myself and my brothers that good children received presents from Sinterklaas. All good so far. The Dutch Sinterklaas is not the kindly, lovable Santa Claus figure the rest of us are used to, he looks more like a menacing old man who rides a white horse and who is accompanied by his helper, Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”), a Moor. He has a big red book with names of good and naughty children. Children who have been bad are taken away by Zwarte Piet in his sack to Spain for a year. Those who haven’t been naughty enough to take to Spain are beaten by Zwarte Piet with birch sticks. None of this ‘lump of coal in your stocking’ stuff. Year after year we were told this by our mother, Dad supporting, and we believed it. It may even have been a blessing, rather than disappointment, when we found out Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet didn’t exist.
Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas
The Zwarte Piet character is considered racist by many in Holland, especially in the use of blackface. Complaints of racism are, however, countered by supporters who speak of cultural heritage and maintaining tradition.
Some larger stores have modified the character, including making his skin gold. Schools have also started modifying his appearance.