THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A nationally televised parade has welcomed the Dutch version of Santa Claus to the Netherlands amid a fierce national debate about his helper “Black Pete.”

White people often daub their faces with black paint when they dress up to play the character. Opponents say such depictions of Black Pete promote racist stereotypes. Supporters defend the sidekick of Sinterklaas, the white-bearded, red-robed Dutch version of St. Nicholas, as a traditional children’s character.

A boat carrying Sinterklaas sailed into the harbor of the picturesque village of Zaandijk on Saturday. He was accompanied by dozens of Black Petes, their faces painted varying shades – from uniformly dark to smudged with dark streaks.

Thousands of children, many wearing Black Pete costumes, lined streets to greet Sinterklaas.