In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Belgium, Zwarte Piet ['zʋɑrtə pit] ( pronunciation (help·info); meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas) whose yearly feast in the Netherlands is usually celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond, that is, St. Nicholas' Eve) and 6 December in Belgium, when they distribute sweets and presents to all good children.
The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas's feast, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, having traveled from Madrid, Spain). The tasks of the Zwarte Pieten are mostly to amuse children, and to scatter pepernoten, kruidnoten and strooigoed (special sinterklaas candies) for those who come to meet the saint as he visits stores, schools, and other places.
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- 1845: Jan Schenkman writes Saint Nicholas and his Servant; Piet is described in this book as a page, and is depicted as a dark man wearing clothes associated with a moor. Steamboat travel becomes part of the mythos from this point. In the 1850 version of Schenkman's book, they are depicted looking much as they do today. In later editions, Piet was shown in the page costume. The book stayed in print until 1950 and can be seen as the foundation of the current celebration, even though it did use a lot of older ideas and customs.
- 1891: In the book Het Feest van Sinterklaas, the servant is named Pieter. Until 1920 there were several books giving him other names, and in contemporaneous appearances the name and looks still varied considerably.
- In the early 20th century the Civilized Standard Celebration for children, with Zwarte Piet as the standard personal servant of the saint, spread throughout the country. In the 1930s urban adults become more involved, too, and the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his Zwarte Pieten are staged, which more or less explains the shift from the 6th to the 5th of December, as the adults would celebrate on the eve of the saint's day.
- During the 20th century, the number of Sinterklaas' servants multiplied; this paradigm shift offered the possibility of creating several different Zwarte Piet characters, notably for television. During the televised yearly event, when Sinterklaas arrives by boat, he is often assisted by dozens of Piets, for example there's a Hoofdpiet (Head Piet) who carries the book of Sinterklaas, a Rijmpiet (Rhyme Piet) and so on.
The Dutch now celebrate Sinterklaas (5 December) with an exchange of gifts. These presents are given anonymously, but are often accompanied by poems, Sinterklaasgedicht, signed by Zwarte Piet or Sint, which are read aloud during Sinterklaas evening for the enjoyment of the ones assembled. The poems are often of a teasing nature.
The first origin of Sinterklaas and his helpers can probably be found in the Wild Hunt of Wodan. Riding the white horse Sleipnir he flew through the air as the leader of the Wild Hunt. He was always accompanied by two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn.  Those helpers would listen, just like Zwarte Piet, at the chimney - which was just a hole in the roof at that time - to tell Wodan about the good and bad behaviour of the mortals. During Christianization, Pope Gregory I argued that conversions were easier if people were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditions, while claiming that the traditions were in honour of the Christian God; the Saint Nicolas tradition is one of them, converting Wodan to a Christian counterpart.
According to myths dating to the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Nicholas operated by himself or in the companionship of a devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas Eve the devil was shackled and made his slave; a devil as a helper of the saint can still be found in the Austrian Saint Nicholas tradition, in the character of Krampus.
Some sources indicate that in Germanic Europe, Zwarte Piet was originally such an enslaved devil, forced to assist his captor, but in the 19th century Netherlands the character emerged in the likeness of a Moor, a servant of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is said to come from the Byzantine Empire, modern-day Turkey.
The introduction of this new Zwarte Piet was paired with a change in the attitude of the Sinterklaas character, who became quite severe towards bad children himself, and worried teachers and priests due to the depiction of a holy man in this light. Sometime after the introduction of Zwarte Piet as Sinterklaas' servant, both characters adapted a softer character.
Still, the lyrics of older traditional Sinterklaas songs warn that while Sinterklaas and his assistant will leave well-behaved children presents, they will punish those who have been very naughty. For example, they will take bad children and carry these children off in a burlap sack to their homeland of Spain, where, according to legend, Sinterklaas and his helper dwell out of season. These songs and stories also warn that a child who has been only slightly naughty will not get a present, but a "roe", which is a bundle of birch twigs, implying that they could have gotten a birching instead, or they will simply receive a lump of coal instead of gifts.
Until the second half of the 20th century, Saint Nicholas' helper was not too bright, in line with the old colonial traditions.[clarification needed] Once immigration started from the former colonised countries, Zwarte Piet became a much more respected assistant of Saint Nicholas, often inattentive, but playful.
According to the more modern Saint Nicholas legend, a Zwarte Piet is a servant who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his holiday travels. In some versions, Saint Nicholas is said to have liberated a young slave named Peter, who decided to serve Nicholas. Zwarte Piet is today commonly depicted as a black person in the colorful pantaloons, feathered cap and ruffles of a Renaissance European page, a tradition that comes from a children's book published in 1850.
Zwarte Pieten are often portrayed as mischievous but rarely mean-spirited characters, the character is believed to have been derived from pagan traditions of evil spirits.
Modern tradition 
The role of Zwarte Pieten has become part of a recurring debate in the Netherlands. Controversial practices include holiday revellers blackening their faces and wearing afro wigs, gold jewelry and bright red lipstick, and walking the streets throwing candy to passers-by.
Foreign tourists, particularly those from the United States and the United Kingdom, often experience culture shock when encountering the character, as dressing in blackface is a social taboo in these and other countries. Since the 1990s, there have been several attempts to introduce a new kind of Zwarte Piet to the Dutch public, among them replacing traditional black makeup with various other shades of colours. As an experiment in 2006, the NPS (en: Dutch Programme Foundation) replaced the black Pieten with rainbow-colored Pieten but reverted the characters back to the traditional all-black makeup a year later.
The tradition continues to be popular in the Netherlands but some activists have protested against it. Four people wearing T-shirts with the words "Zwarte Piet is Racist" were arrested during the second weekend of November 2011.
The largest Sinterklaas celebration in Western Canada, slated for December 3, 2011, in New Westminster, British Columbia, was cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1985 following a debate over the inclusion of Zwarte Piet. Rather than remove the character, the organizers cancelled the festivities entirely because, as spokesperson Tako Slump of the organization said: 
"We got a lot of replies back from our customers in the Dutch community. It became pretty clear to us that we love Sinterklaas and we can't have it without Black Peter. Those two go together."
In 2011, legislators in the former Dutch colony of Suriname stated that government-sanctioned celebrations involving Zwarte Piet were considered an insult to the "black part of Suriname's community." Efforts have begun in the Republic to prevent future governmental promotions of the character.
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- Hélène Adeline Guerber (d. 1929). "huginn and muninn "Myths of the Norsemen" from". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
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- Booy, Frits (2003). "Lezing met dia's over 'op zoek naar zwarte piet' (in search of Zwarte Piet)" (in dutch). Retrieved 2007-11-29.
- "Oorsprong van de feesten. Wie is Sint Niklaas?" (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 2009-05-03. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
- "Question of the Month: Who is Black Peter?". feries.edu. January 2005. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
- Dutch Question St. Nick's Sidekick, Washington Post, December 2, 1999. Accessed June 22, 2012.
- (Dutch) Piet weer zwart ("Pete black again"), De Telegraaf, November 15, 2007. Accessed online February 17, 2008.
- "Anti-Zwarte Piet activists arrests prompts new debate". Dutch News.nl. 17 November 2011.
- "New Westminster Sinterklaas festival Cancelled". Royal City Record. 29 November 2011.
- "RACIST TRADITION: Legislators say Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas at Christmas is racist". Caribbean News Agency (CANA). 2011-Dec-24. Retrieved 2011-Dec-24.[dead link]
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