• on December 14, 2017

Black Pete – Advent Day 14

Many of us have wondered how in the world Santa Claus can get all of those presents delivered in one night without being seen. Especially when you combine his seeming lack of mobility and high visibility in a red suit.

The Dutch have solved the problem: Black Pete.

While relatively unknown on our side of the Atlantic, Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) is well-known, though controversial in Europe. He is Santa Claus’ servant, whose primary responsibility is to deliver Christmas presents with stealth and speed. (Black Pete is significantly more spry and lean than jolly ole’ St. Nick.)

The racial controversy surrounding Black Pete is driven by the fact that he is typically portrayed by white individuals utilizing blackface, renaissance attire, bright makeup, and jewelry. Some credit the origin of Black Pete to the 1850 publication of a Christmas book by Jan Schenckman. Though a small, dark individual can be seen accompanying Santa in renaissance art from the earlier centuries.

Black Pete is occasionally depicted as a blackamoor from Spain. However, in other Dutch traditions, Black Pete isn’t necessarily of African descent. His face becomes covered in black soot while he scampers up and down the chimneys, doing Santa’s dirty work. Since his face is covered in black, he is able to deliver presents to the front doors of houses without chimneys, knock or ring the bell, and then quickly disappear into the darkness with a seeming cloak of invisibility. (The Dutch have thought of everything.)

Over the centuries, Black Pete has evolved from a disciplinarian delivering punishment to the kids on the naughty list to a fun-loving joker delivering sweets and presents with flips and cartwheels.

Don’t get me wrong. The imagery of a black-faced, over-worked servant doing the dirty work of a well-fed and luxuriously clothed white man who takes all the credit, isn’t lost on me. The racial tension that accompanies Christmas celebrations involving Black Pete is unfortunate but understandable. I agree with those that say it’s probably time for the tradition of Black Pete to come to an end. The debate was intensified in 2013 when the UN Human Rights Commission got involved.

All that being said,  I’m not sure Black Pete is really all that different from what we experience in our Christian lives.

He came not to be served, but to serve.

Isn’t Jesus like Black Pete in some ways? He didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. He did the dirty work, we neither could nor wanted to do.

Leaving Glory behind, He came into our world, getting Himself covered in the soot and filth that is our human existence. He entered the world under the cover of night. He lived a life (and still does) of misunderstanding. And then slipped back into Glory with little pomp and circumstance from the human side of things. (Revelation 5 portrays the other side of the Ascension story.)

The Word became flesh and lived among us. He Who knew no sin, became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God.

He did all of this for the purpose of serving us. He came for the purpose of giving us the greatest Gift ever: unity with the Father through Himself, the Forever Life. He opened Himself to us to share His identity with us. He shares His glory with us. He shares His salvation with us. He shares His Father with us. This is what Christmas is all about. This is why there was a Baby in the manger.

He is serving us still. He is pulling us further and further into Himself.

And I just think that since this is true of our relationship with Christ, it should be true of our relationships with each other. We should be serving one another; opening ourselves to one another. We should be pulling each other further into our identities and realities. Not so much sharing life and ‘doing life together,’ but becoming One Life with each other as we are becoming One Life with Him.

I’m glad that Jesus is willing to serve. I’m glad that He was willing to do the dirty work.

I’m also glad that His invitation to join Him in Salvation and Eternal Life, also includes the invitation to join Him in the dirty work of opening ourselves to others and sharing our identity with them. We get to share the story of Jesus. We get to share the Good News as we invite people to believe in the Salvation that He has provided; the Victory that He has won.

This requires us to serve. This requires us to get dirty. This requires a willingness to be misunderstood.

This requires us to be like Black Pete.

J. Mauger

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