It is a tradition at this time of the year in most European countries for Saint Nicolas (an ancestor to father Christmas) to come visiting children laden with a lot of gifts. This is the one day in the year that children look forward to with much joy and anticipation.
In Holland, a part of the tradition is for Saint Nicolas to come along with another character called ‘Black Pete’ who is a role played by a White person with blackened face, red lips and an Afro wig. This year, some protesters took to the streets calling the appearance of the Black Pete a racist act inherited from the colonial times.
Defending themselves, the followers of this tradition said Pete got a black face because he came down through the chimney.
It is interesting to note that there is an almost similar character appearing once a year during the festive seasons of the new year ( Nuwruz) in the Persian culture. This fictional character is called Hajji Firuz. He too, has a blackened face and red lips and wears a cone-shaped hat. Myth narrates that he was a firekeeper of the Zoroastrians, hence his face is covered with black soot. Hajji Firuz’s job description, consists of singing and dancing in the streets, making everyone happy and ushering in the new year.
I grew up with this culture and it never crossed my mind, nor that of my peers, that the blackened face of Hajji Firuz, had any racist hint or meaning, and we never asked why he was black. However, after living for many years in Africa, I started asking Persians why Hajji’s face was blackened, but all I got in reply were some confused faces. It was like all of a sudden, someone was asking why Father Christmas is an old man with a white beard! So sometimes appearances of a cultural practice might not be what it actually consists of.
Unfortunately, with a world that is increasingly showing it’s ugly side that is full of all kinds of prejudices, it is very important to become sensitive to people’s sentiments and feelings, otherwise even actions that are geared towards assisting one another might be misinterpreted as paternalistic.
Truly, in this great confusion of our times, bad and good have been intertwined, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate between sincere or nasty motives. We live in times that one is even worried about complimenting a child lest one’s intentions be misunderstood. Even our gut feelings that helped us distinguish, have now been corrupted.
Some years ago, while waiting to be served in an office, a lady with her young child were also waiting in line. I smiled at the toddler and he frowned back. The mother proudly said, “good boy, we don’t smile for strangers, now do we?” I remember how upset and disturbed I became then, and thinking of it now, I realise the mother had every right to do what she did.
There is an almost similar character appearing once a year during the festive seasons of the new year (Nuwruz) in the Persian culture. This fictional character is called Hajji Firuz. He too, has a blackened face and red lips and wears a cone-shaped hat.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor