An Amsterdam court says the figure known as 'Black Pete' – the sidekick to the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus – is a negative stereotype of black people and the city must rethink its involvement in holiday celebrations involving the figure.
Debate over Zwarte Piet has intensified in the Netherlands in recent years as opponents say the black clown with thick red lips and a frizzy Afro hairstyle is a racist caricature.
Most Dutch people argue he is a harmless fantasy figure and say no insult is intended.
The ruling ordered the city of Amsterdam to re-examine its decision to grant a permit for an annual winter festival attended by thousands of children.
In Dutch tradition, St Nicholas arrives by steamboat with scores of Black Petes handing out presents.
It also cited a publication by the country's national human rights commission this week that found that white Dutch leaders frequently react with ``irritation and dismissal'' when questions of racism are raised, even though workplace discrimination is well documented in the Netherlands.
The Amsterdam District Court ordered the city to re-examine its decision to grant a permit for one part of the annual winter festival attended by thousands of children: the arrival of St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas.
Adults dress up to play the Dutch version of the story, with St Nicholas arriving by steamboat from Spain in November, accompanied by a flotilla of boats packed with Black Petes.
The kindly St Nicholas rides a white horse accompanied by the clowning Petes, who hand out cookies. Festivities conclude later with a night of gift giving on December 5.
Amsterdam has begun discussing possible solutions, including using different colours of face paint for Pete, or merely smudging his cheeks with soot.