Dutch Christmas Character Black Pete Sparks Protests

The character has been the subject of fierce debate and protest.

Usually depicted by wearing black face paint, a curly wig and red lipstick -- the controversial character is a part of the Sinterklaas festival, where the Dutch version of St Nicholas arrives to hand out presents along with Black Pete, who acts as his  helper.

Black Pete passes in front of anti-racism protesters (Image AAP)

Anti-racism protests against the depiction of the character have escalated this year. Reuters reported Black Pete supporters attacked anti-racism campaigners on the Erasmus Bridge in the city of Rotterdam.

Meanwhile, Black Pete supporters in Eindhoven threw eggs and beer at protesters and police.

At least 40 people were reportedly detained by authorities.

Children are given sweets and presents by passing Black Pete's at the Sinterklaas festival (Image AAP)

One problem with cracking down on Black Pete is that he's become so embedded in Dutch Christmas culture that for some people he is the symbol of happy childhood memories, one Dutch man who declined to be named told 10 daily.

"I've heard otherwise really liberal and open minded people, when this tradition's been criticised, just saying how ridiculous it is and that it's not racist at all," he said.

The Black Peters arrive in Hoorn in the north of the Netherlands (Image AAP)

He said he hopes the practice can be abandoned and is a reminder of the nation's colonial past.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte reportedly appealed for calm on Friday.

Saint Nicholas surrounded by Black Peters (Image AAP)

"I think society agrees on one thing: we grant children the magic of the Sinterklaas party," he said.