In Amsterdam’s traditional and now trendy Jordaan neighbourhood, a house is bedecked with the festive holiday trappings of Sinterklaas, the annual Dutch holiday.

More than a dozen blackface dolls are affixed to the facade. Across the street, a large white sheet hangs outside another house with a painted message in blue: Zwarte Piet is Racisme.

The battle over the divisive Dutch holiday character Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, is on full display again this year.

While Sinterklaas, based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, is portrayed as an elderly white man who arrives by ship and rides a white horse in parades across the Netherlands, hundreds of adults and children dress up as his helper, Zwarte Piet, wearing blackface, painted large red lips and black curly wigs, some with large golden earrings.

With often buffoonish behaviour, the depiction is considered by many to be a vestige of a racist past, originating in the minstrel shows in the eighteenth-century United States.

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