Demonstrators are gathering in Amsterdam to protest the arrival of the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus, not because of any dislike of the children's festival but because of his clownish servant "Black Pete."

Opponents say the figure, who wears blackface makeup, red lipstick and a frizzy "Afro" wig, is a racist caricature and either he should be abolished or altered. But the large majority of Dutch people feel that there is no racial insult intended by Black Pete, and he is a positive figure of fun.

In the Dutch celebration, St. Nicholas lives in Spain, and arrives amid fanfare this weekend by steamboat, accompanied by hordes of "Petes" The festivities culminate in a night of gift-giving and poems on Dec. 5.