Santa Claus traditions in Central Switzerland


Description

The traditional figure of 'Samichlaus' (Santa Claus) is omnipresent in Central Switzerland on 6 December and the days before and after. In many places he visits the homes of families with children, the headquarters of local associations and retirement homes. Numerous villages also hold a Santa Claus procession, which is usually specified, depending on the location, as his arrival or the commencement of his tour of the village. Clad in red, Santa Claus follows a fixed route around the village, accompanied by Trychler (cowbell ringers), Geisselchlöpfer (whip-crackers) and bearers of lanterns, torches and Iffelen (a type of elaborately decorated lantern). In addition to his helpers the Schmutzli, who are cloaked in dark cowls, his closest companions often include a donkey, or, more rarely, a pony, and on occasions servants and angels. Santa Claus usually travels on foot, but in a few places he prefers to get around by horse, horse-drawn carriage or even boat. These processions have their origins in the bishop's plays performed by monastery pupils in the late Middle Ages that gained popularity throughout central Europe. The most well-known and high-profile event in the Santa Claus tradition is the Klausjagen procession in Küssnacht am Rigi.

Image gallery

  • Santa Claus arriving in Engelberg with four «Schmutzlis» and his helper «Knecht Ruprecht», 2008 © Charles Christen, Engelberg
  • Schoolboys with cowbells on a Santa Claus procession in Stans. At the centre are the Geiggel (wearers of decorative headpieces typical of the area). Around 1900 © Staatsarchiv Nidwalden
  • Santa Claus visiting a family at home in Oberwil (ZG), 1977 © Privatbesitz
  • Participants in the Küssnacht «Klausjagen» procession, 1935 , the year in which the St Niklausengesellschaft depicted on the «Iffele» on the left was founded © St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • Procession of a thousand bell-ringers during the «Klausjagen» celebrations in Küssnacht, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • Samichlaus illuminated by the light of the torches during the procession in Küssnacht, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • «Iffelen» bearers dancing through the night during the Küssnacht Santa Claus procession, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • Santa Claus arriving in Engelberg with four «Schmutzlis» and his helper «Knecht Ruprecht», 2008 © Charles Christen, Engelberg
  • Schoolboys with cowbells on a Santa Claus procession in Stans. At the centre are the Geiggel (wearers of decorative headpieces typical of the area). Around 1900 © Staatsarchiv Nidwalden
  • Santa Claus visiting a family at home in Oberwil (ZG), 1977 © Privatbesitz
  • Participants in the Küssnacht «Klausjagen» procession, 1935 , the year in which the St Niklausengesellschaft depicted on the «Iffele» on the left was founded © St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • Procession of a thousand bell-ringers during the «Klausjagen» celebrations in Küssnacht, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • Samichlaus illuminated by the light of the torches during the procession in Küssnacht, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht
  • «Iffelen» bearers dancing through the night during the Küssnacht Santa Claus procession, 2008 © Alex Dietz/St. Niklausengesellschaft Küssnacht

References and documentation

Publications
  • Walter Bär-Vetsch: Advents- und Weihnachtsbräuche, deren Herkunft und Aufkommen in Uri. Erstfeld, 2006

  • Brigitt Flüeler, Elsbeth Flüeler: Der Stanser Samichlais. Stans, 2013

  • Karl Gisler: Sitten und Bräuche in Uri. In: Schweizer Volksleben. Sitten, Bräuche, Wohnstätten (Band 2). Ed. Heinrich Brockmann-Jerosch. Erlenbach, 1931, P. 23-26

  • Walter Heim: Nikolausbrauch mit Bischofsgestalt: Ergebnisse der SGV-Umfrage. In: Schweizer Volkskunde 76. Basel, 1986, p. 65-80

  • Walter Heim: Die Wiederbelebung des Klausjagens in Küssnacht a. Rigi. In: Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde 93. Basel, 1997, p. 41-52

  • Karl Imfeld: Volksbräuche und Volkskultur in Obwalden. Kriens, 2006

  • Andreas Iten: Brauchtum im Ägerital. Legorenfasnacht, Mittefastenfeuer, Wylägerer Fasnachtsgesellschaft, Klausjagen. In: Zuger Neujahrsblatt. Zug, 1996, p. 86-90

  • Ursula Karbacher, Kurth Lussi, Martin Ruch: St. Nikolaus. Heiliger und Kinderschreck. Begleitpublikation zur Ausstellung «Nikolaus, Samichlaus, Santa Claus», Historisches Museum Luzern, 27. November 1999 bis 9. Januar 2000. Lindenberg , 1999

  • Hans Steinegger, Josef Wiget: Feste und Bräuche im Kanton Schwyz. Schwyz, 1989

  • Werner Mezger: Sankt Nikolaus. Zwischen Kult und Klamauk. Zur Entstehung, Entwicklung und Veränderung der Brauchformen um einen populären Heiligen. Ostfildern, 1993

  • Turnverein Beckenried (Ed.): Beggrieder Samichlais. Einheimisches Brauchtum seit 1935. Beckenried, 2005

Documentation