A traditional Dutch Christmas festival in which people don blackface has made an appearance at Discovery Bay beach, Lantau.

In a video shared by Localiiz on Saturday, five characters can be seen arriving on a boat wearing blackface make-up, lipstick and large wigs. According to the tradition, Zwarte Piet – or Black Pete – is meant to be the servant of Sinterklaas, or St. Nichloas.

Across the Netherlands, the character celebrates the start of the Christmas season by giving out gifts to children alongside Santa Claus. According to polls, most Dutch see the practice as uncontroversial, though – internationally – the tradition has long raised eyebrows, not least owing to Holland’s colonial history.

“Let’s welcome the traditional racism coming to Hong Kong: Zwarte Piet,” said one commenter under the video.

Some defended the practice: “Saint Nicolas normally arrives in houses through chimney, this is the reason his assistants are black: not because they are black people, but because their faces are full of soot, because they go through the chimney. No racism here.”

But another commenter said the backstory was more complicated: “Actually not true I suggest you read more Black Pete was supposed to be St Nicholas servant he was a Spanish Moor (Muslim) who would take away bad children. They would all arrive in a boat supposedly from Spain where they all lived and made the gifts. It was created around 1850 and is heavily based around the Dutch and Belgium involvement in the slave trade and colonial past and is seriously seriously racist.”

In 2014, The Netherlands’ highest administrative court ruled that the caricature cannot be banned from public celebrations after a lower court deemed it offensive.

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