A female Santa Claus calling for Belgium to be liberated from “colonial ideology” has been cancelled by the city of Ghent.
Critics labelled Queen Nikkolah, who was to be draped in the colours of the Palestinian flag, “woker than woke” as the mayor caved into pressure to call off her visit to the town hall.
“There is nothing wrong with Sinterklaas, as we know him,” Mathias de Clercq said. “We shouldn’t try to turn him into something else.”
Queen Nikkolah, an African alternative to Sinterklaas, the Belgian Santa Claus, had been due to hand out gifts to children at the Flemish city’s town hall on Wednesday before Mr de Clercq stepped in.
The character of Queen Nikkolah, dreamt up by artist Laura Nsengiyumva, had hoped to give the children reworked versions of traditional Christmas stories about Sinterklaas in exchange for their more stereotypical books.
Members of the Right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), the largest party in Belgium and its Dutch-speaking Flanders region, declared the event “woker than woke”.
Anneleen Van Bossuyt, a party member, denounced the attempt to modernise Sinterklaas as “censorship” and compared the planned reworking of stories to book burning.
Nadia Sminate, a vice-chairman of the Flemish parliament, added: “Queen Nikkolah’s initiative is actually saying that entire generations of Flemish people are racists.”
“I dream of a Belgium liberated from colonial ideology and a society without discrimination,” Queen Nikkolah said, ahead of her planned visit to the Belgian university town of Leuven.
More than 300 children had reportedly been signed up to join the alternative event in Ghent, according to organisers.
This year Queen Nikkolah was going to drape herself in Palestinian colours to draw attention to the children of Gaza, as Israel and Hamas fight a war in the territory.
Belgium and the Netherlands celebrate St Nicholas Day on Dec 6, with Sinterklaas usually accompanied by his companion Zwarte Piet – or Black Pete – a black-faced boy with curled-hair and large, painted on red lips.
Anti-racism campaigners have called for an end to the tradition in both countries.
A protest took place last month in the Belgian city of Kortrijk, calling for a more inclusive, child-friendly celebration without alleged racist stereotypes.
It was the first authorised protest against Zwarte Piet in Belgium.
Geert Wilders, the Far-right politician, promised to bring back the tradition in the manifesto that helped propel him to a Dutch election victory last month.
The United Nations’ high commission for human rights wrote to the Dutch government in 2013, expressing concern over the Dutch Christmas custom.
In its letter, the human rights body suggested there was “growing opposition to the racial profiling of Black Pete within Dutch society”.
But plans for a UN investigation into whether the character was a racial stereotype were later dropped.