SWiss Christmas Traditions
I decided to make today’s blog post a lesson on Switzerland. Since Christmas is a week away, I figured I would devote today’s blog to Christmas.
Everyone ( I think) that celebrates Christmas also celebrates Advent; the season of preparation for Christmas. Most religious houses probably have an advent wreath consisting of either 4 or 5 candles. Side note: Growing up, I never knew there was such a thing as an advent wreath that did not have 5 candles. I never experienced this until after I got married and I started going to a Catholic Church. I remember being really surprised that the wreath didn’t have a candle for Christmas Day. Anyway, growing up we also had an Advent Calendar, where each day we would get a small treat like a Hershey’s Kiss. Some small towns in Switzerland take the Advent Calendar one step further. 24 residents in the town are selected to decorate a window during the season. One window is un-shuttered each evening. The villagers gather around the house until the shutters are opened revealing the window. Once the shutter is opened, it remains open until Christmas Eve.
Another tradition that comes from Europe is St Nicholas Day. This was another thing I had never heard of until we had kids. In fact. I remember George being very upset in Kindergarten because all his friends were visited by St Nick, but he had not been. That was one of my gigantic failures as a parent. 🙂 I am a little ashamed to admit it, but because Julie and I didn’t grow celebrating St Nick. There was actually more than one time this was forgotten in our house. Thank goodness when the kids were little we were able to convince them it was because they didn’t put their shoes outside their room! Samichlaus (German areas) Saint-Nicolas (French and Italian areas) travels the country with sidekick Schmutzli. They travel with a donkey which is carrying chocolate, peanuts, and oranges. Samichlaus is not dressed like the US traditional version of Santa Claus. Samichalus is dressed more like a catholic priest. He wears bishop’s robes, a mitre on his head, and also carries a staff. The children are encouraged to recite a poem or sing a song, and Samichlaus gives them a treat. Schmutzli carries twigs for whipping the naughty children. This is the line that cracked me up as I was learning about this: “Just for the record, Schmutzli never actually whips the children — that would of course be illegal
This tradition is in the town of Basel. It will certainly make all my Wisconsin friends smile. This tradition started about 40 years ago. I already mentioned that traditionally Samichlaus travels with a donkey. In Basel, he travels by Harley. He is accompanied by approximately 50 of his helpers, and they ride into town to the Christmas Marktplatz. Once at the markt the “gang” hands out presents, and snacks to the kids. The group also uses this as a fundraiser and donates the profits to help entertain children stuck in the hospital during Christmas time.
In the Italian area of Switzerland. Christmas is celebrated with a traditional big lunch. The panettone is the most part of the meal. The panettone is a type of fruit cake, but not the dense brick like thing the US associates with fruit cake. It is a light airy cake made with raisins, lemon zest, and candied oranges. The article I read about this emphasized that once the cake is on the table, no one is allowed to touch it, until the meal is finished. There is a saying a Christmas which is translated as “what you just said makes the panettone vomit.” It is used when someone gets annoying, boring or inappropriate around the table.
In Luzern one of the traditions is the Klausjagen or Santa Hunt. Klausjagen officially begins at 8:15pm, where the entire city shuts off its lights and plunges itself into darkness. From there, local farmers herd the parade through the streets with whips, cracked in perfect unison. Following the whips, other participants wear stained glass hats and walk through the streets clearing the say for Samichlaus. Samichlaus and Schmutzli hand out treats to the children along the parade route. Next are three waves of sound to chase out bad spirits. A band that plays a very short refrain, a group ringing cowbells, and then a group blowing on cow horns. After the parade comes a city wide party!
The final Christmas tradition takes place down in Geneva called the Coupe de Noël. In the US, we usually do this more on New Years Day, but here the last weekend of Advent is celebrated with an open water swimming race on Lake Geneva. The temperate of the lake is usually about 41 degrees (F). It isn’t so much a race, as it is a contest to see who can have the strangest outfit. It is touted as the biggest cold water race in the world and it literally attracts swimmers from all over the world. This race has been happening every year since 1934. Seems like a very chilly way to celebrate Christmas.
I hope you enjoyed learning about some of the strange things that happen here in Switzerland. I have to admit, this year, with all the health related scares, Christmas is a much more subdued atmosphere. I have really missed the singing tree in Zürich, as well as traveling around to the different Markets. Julie and I are keeping our fingers crossed for a return to normalcy next year.
I probably won’t write again until after Christmas. On the 28th Julie and I are taking off to the village of Andermatt for a couple of days, so my next post, should have all kinds of mountain pictures to ooooh and aaaaah over. I hope you all have a blessed and safe Christmas, and a joyous New Year.