I Stand Corrected

image: comediva.com

image: comediva.com

I recently wrote a series of posts about Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), a character in the Dutch Saint Nicholas celebration. Black Peter is Sinterklaas’s helper; he’s a white person in blackface, with red lips, a black frizzy wig, dressed in an old-fashioned clown outfit.

Many black people in the Netherlands find it offensive that their ethnicity is reduced to black (literally black) skin, big red lips and frizzy hair. There is a debate going on about whether or not Black Peter being Sinterklaas’s helper dates back to slavery. There are also plenty of black people in the Netherlands who say it doesn’t bother them in the least, who even join in the fun with gusto.

volkskrant.nlNevertheless, Black Peter made international news when people who felt that the Dutch government hadn’t taken their complaints of racism seriously went to the United Nations.

Predictably, when I wrote my posts, many Dutch people reacted defensively, and one reader mentioned in a comment to this post that the American Santa has elves, and what do little people think of that?

I responded: “As for Santa Claus and his elves: elves really and truly are fairytale figures. Santa doesn’t ever (not that I’ve ever seen or heard of in the 20 years that I’ve lived in the USA) have little people dressed up as elves. That would indeed be offensive. So it isn’t done.”

Well, I was just watching CNN, and during the commercial break I saw Santa with some elves played by little people in an HEB commercial. (HEB is the main supermarket in Texas.)

Now I wonder if I really hadn’t ever seen little people playing Santa’s elves, or if I simply hadn’t been paying attention before. Because it’s quite a coincidence that I saw this commercial so shortly after writing that oh so decisive response.

So I have a question for you little people out there: are you offended at being associated with elves around this time of year? Do you feel stereotyped, in a munchkin kind of way? Or does it not bother you at all? Do you have fun with it or does it spoil December? I’d love to hear your take(s) on it.

4 responses to “I Stand Corrected

  1. Marie-Jacqueline

    LOL: I told you so!

    Thank you for correcting your misconception about Santaclaus having no little people dressed up as elves.

    If little people do find that offensive; than I see no difference that you only will see that in a commercial or film or in public!

    To follow your line of thinking:
    Only little people know how it feels!


  2. It’s entirely likely some little people find it offensive. Even actors who take such jobs may well get tired of the cliche. But you’ll find plenty of average sized people playing elves too, for mall Santas and such. Height isn’t a fixed aspect of Santa’s elves, and some traditions portray Santa himself being one of them (an elf). But the image isn’t a static one. I point to the Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen, wherein the elves are played by children. If you draw possible lines in the folklore to a point of convergence, it may be in swart-elves, or dark elves, who were both short and dark, lived underground, and made wondrous and magical things.


    • Thanks! Yes, when I was going over movies I’ve seen in my mind, I remember mostly elves who were either short or not, but average-proportioned, like in Elf, or in Polar Express. I could only think of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz as using little people, and I remember reading that many of them hated the role. It’s true that the way elves are portrayed isn’t static, which is one of the many, many reasons why it shouldn’t be such a big deal to change the appearance of the Pieten of Sinterklaas.


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