A majority of contemporary authors assume that the Dutch holiday season character of Black Pete has been created by the nineteenth century schoolmaster Jan Schenkman in his book “Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht[i] ”, published in 1850. Followers of this line of reasoning usually also subscribe to the view that he and his illustrators were inspired by paintings of pages[ii], black servants of noble families in Europe. Not only the “invention” of Black Pete but also many other rituals of the Saint Nicolas celebrations, like the entry tour of the Saint and his Spanish homeland, are attributed to Schenkman, portraying him and his book as the founders of the current tradition. By blindly postulating such a recent and one-dimensional lineage for the Saint’s servant, without any critical discussion on the validity of the underlying assumptions and the historical facts, the mythical figure of Black Pete and his many incarnations in European folklore are frequently misinterpreted as racist.
Many new sources have surfaced over the last years that shed a completely different light on the origins of Black Pete and other elements of the tradition. According to extensive research neither the arrival procession of Saint Nicolas nor his companion Black Pete started with Schenkman. Similarly, Spain was mentioned as the homeland for Saint-Nicolas well before the publication of 1850.
In the next paragraphs we will discuss the most important historical sources on this topic. Please read the article here.