Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) is the companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas) in the folklore of the Low Countries, whose yearly feast in the Netherlands is usually celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond, that is, St. Nicholas’ Eve) and 6 December in Belgium, when they distribute sweets and presents to all good children.
In other surrounding countries many similar but different characters are the companion of Saint Nicholas.
For example in Germany the character is called Knecht Ruprecht (journeyman Ruprecht), and in France the companion is called Père Fouettard, In these countries the tradition of celebrating the birthday of Saint Nicholas has not merged with Christmas.
The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’s feast, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, having traveled from Madrid, Spain).
The tasks of the Zwarte Pieten are mostly to amuse children, and to scatterpepernoten, kruidnoten and strooigoed (special sinterklaas candies) for those who come to meet the saint as he visits stores, schools, and other places.