Friday, December 5, 2014

Samichlaus tradition in Switzerland (San Nicolao)

In Switzerland, the tradition of St. Nicolas is somewhat different from the norm. Switzerland is a country of several languages so it is not surprising there are several different St. Nicholas traditions. In German-speaking areas Saint Nicholas is known as Samichlaus. Though he looks the same as Father Christmas, the Samichlaus (originally Sankt Nikolaus) does not bring the presents at Christmas. Rather, he appears on the 6th of December. Children visit the Samichlaus (usually at school or with their parents) to be judged and recite poems that they've learned. The other option - when I was little - was leaving your boots in front of the door the night of December 5th to find them filled with goddies the next morning.

Samichlaus is usually accompanied by a helper called Schmutzli (from "schmutzig" - dirty). He is dressed in a black or brown cape with a large hood. He wears a black beard and is smeared with dirt. While the Samichlaus praises the kids who have been good, Schmutzli takes the naughty kids, puts them into his bag and carries them away. This makes for a practical way for parents to make their kids behave well: "Be good or Schmutzli will carry you off in his bag!"

Fear not for the Swiss children. Described above is the original form. Nowadays Schmutzli is purely ornamental or even left out completely.

My kids used to visit San Nicola in he woods with their school class. Trust me, they never slept very well the night before.

Should you need a Samichlaus for your family you can check out the Chlaus directory here:

The evening meal on December 6th traditionally consists of a man-shaped bread (called Grittibänz, recipe here), mandarines, walnuts, peanuts (with the shells), Lebkuchen and chocolates.

So, make sure you put your boots outside the door tonight and IF you have been good you'll awake tomorrow morning to find them filled with mandarines, nuts and chocolates.

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