Piets are Changing in Belgium

Sooty Piets in Belgium

Along with the Netherlands' Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and Maastricht, in 2015 Brussels and Antwerp also announced they would have alternative, sooty—not blackface— Piets.

So change is coming to Belgium, as well as the Netherlands. There, as well, change is coming first to large cities.

Saint and Piet, Antwerp
Photo: Wirenewsfax

2019 brings Sooty Piets to Antwerp on November 16, where he is greeted by the mayor on Verbindingsdok-Westkaai. Since the beginning of November the Saint has been featured on the television series "Day of Christmas." Each episode has a child's letter with a question about the Saint.

As calls to eliminate blackface Piets in the Netherlands have increased, anti-racism campaigners in Belgium have also called for an end to the tradition of blackface in festivals and carnivals.  Belgium shares in the Black Piet tradition, though less so than in the Netherlands it has other folklore festivals with blackface. 

Changes in Children's Books

Belgian book publisher Clavis destroyed 7,000 of their books that had texts about or images of Zwarte Piet. Some books received new drawings and Zwarte Piet was consistently changed to Piet.

Clavis reported that authors, illustrators, and bookshops had become increasingly hesitant about Zwarte Piet. Chavis said, "At some point, you come to a breaking point and you have to make a decision. Of course, some people will regret this. We can understand that." The company has received e-mail insults. "But we think the trend is irreversible. Emotions are runniig high sometimes, but we try to stay calm."

Some Clavis Sinterklaas books with Piets and no Zwarte Piets.

St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book
St Nicholas Book

Bol.com, a large online retailer, announced they were banning the term Zwarte Piet at the end of September 2020. After that, just Piet would be used. The company said, "Based on the feedback we recently received, we concluded that 'Black Pete' can be experienced as a hurtful term. Last year, we also decided to remove product images that showed people wearing blackface."

"We want all of our customers to feel at home with us. That cannot be rhymed with having a product range that incites discrimination or hatred and is therefore experienced as hurtful. Call it progressive insight, that follows current developments in Belgium and the Netherlands."

Bol.com will still carry Pete costumes, if they don't have afro wigs and golden earrings. If books and films have the Zwarte Piet term in their titles, they'll be allowed but will come with a warning that they are controversial.

These changes have brought criticism. One complaint: "Who are you to pretend to be the master of all morals? You guys are nothing more than big money grabbers. And you think that this shameless move will make you even MORE money. You are disgusting." Bol.com replied, "Yes, who are we to decide what we want to sell on our own platform?"

In both Belgium and the Netherlands changes continue to come as more cities, schools, and retail establishments no longer offer Pieten in blackface.


  • Torrendo, John, "Christmas makes a joyful appearance in Antwerp on the 16th of November," Wirefax, November 1, 2019
  • Johnson, Daniel, "Hello, Santa Claus is back: discover the first images of the brand-new series," Global News, November 1, 2019
  • Picheta, Rob, "This country with a colonial history has a blackface problem," CNN, November 30, 2019
  • Krever, Mick and Amy Woodyatt, "Dutch PM's opinions on blackface have undergone 'major changes'--but he's not going to ban it," CNN, June 5, 2020
  • "George Floyd Protests Prompt Europe to Reckon With Racist Legacies of Colonial Past," The Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2020
  • Zoutberg, Amée, "Shopping site Bol.com bans 'Zwarte Piet' products" The Brussels Times, August 19, 2020
  • "Belgian publisher destroys 7,000 Zwarte Piet books," The Brussels Times, October 27, 2020

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