Sunday, December 5, 2010

Samichlaus & Schmutzli

The great thing about growing up in a multicultural family is that come November there is one festivitiy after the next. In our household we burnt a bonfire on Guy Fawks Day, eat turkey & cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving and come December 6th we would celebrate “Samichlaus”.
On the night of December 5th my brothers and I would put our wellington boots (these were the biggest pair of shoes we had) outside the front door, so that Samichlaus would fill them with mandarines, peanuts and chocolate. 
The Swiss Father Christmas is based on Saint Nicholas, whose feast day was celebrated on December 6th – his Swiss German name, Samichlaus, alludes to that.
Tonight a red-cloaked figure with a white woolly beard and sack of presents will be paying calls on children across Switzerland. This is not the Santa Claus known to English-speaking countries but the Swiss version – who is normally accompanied by a strange-looking individual with a blacked out face known as “Schmutzli”. They don't come from the North Pole but they live in the forest.They do not fly on a reindeer-pulled sleigh, either, but rather shuffle through the snow with a donkey. Samichlaus's alter ego usually carries a broom of twigs for administering punishment to children whose behaviour throughout the year has not been up to scratch. Over the years though, and despite retaining his foreboding appearance, Schmutzli has evolved into a more benign figure.
Kids are expected to rehearse a poem and make a promise to better themselves for the upcoming year. These days, whether they have been naughty or nice, children are left with a bag full of walnuts, peanuts, chocolates, tangerines, ginger breads and most inportantly: a “Grittibänz”! 
The widely held view is that the Grittibänz figure represents Santa Claus in a very simplified form. They are made from a very lightly sweetened brioche dough and taste delicious.
I have added a Grittibänz recipe for this sweet bread man in my recipe book: 
So who - you are wondering  - delivers the presents on Christmas Day? In this part of the world Father Christmas is not one to climb down a chimney to leave presents under the tree on Christmas Morning. This task has been outsourced to the Christchind, baby Jesus!

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