Samichlaus lives in a forest with his helper Schmutzli. They leave the forest with a donkey carrying bags full of peanuts, walnuts, and mandarins for kids. Usually, they arrive at a village on the Sunday night before Santa Day, December 6th.
My first Santa welcoming was last year, in the Städtli of Greifensee, a charming little old town by the lake. It was a very cold night and the plaza in front of an ivy covered mid-evil castle was packed with families and baby strollers. The parents were queuing for a cup of Glühwein (mulled wine), while their kids enjoyed free hot syrup with free refills (about the only free drinks available in Switzerland, right?).
As the old church bells played, a huge wooden carriage arrived with tinkling of gold bells pulled by four horses galloping on the cobblestone. Peeking through tall parents with kids on their shoulders, I did not miss the historical moment: Samichlaus, the Swiss Santa, was there in a red hood getting off the carriage, followed by Schmutzli in a brown coat!
Yay! I have finally spotted Samichlaus!
Oh, wait! Another pair of Samichlaus and Schmutzli? Hum? Wow, the third pair? Ah... Here comes the forth... and the fifth!? There were no less than seven Santas in this little town! Is this the North Pole of Switzerland, or what? I turned my head to my Swiss husband for explanation. He calmly looked into my puzzled eyes and said, "There are many forests in Switzerland." So, there are as many Samichlaus and Schmutzli as there are forests...
Now, that also explains why dozens of pairs of Santas and Schmutzli parade through Zürich's downtown every year. It was actually a bit horrific to watch the sea of red riding hoods accompanied with men wearing long curly black beards on dark, painted faces...
A year later, I noticed several signs of American winter spirit spreading during the simple, modest Swiss holiday season. More balconies and windows are decorated with bright electric lights, even in reindeer, angel, or star shapes.
Some gardens are invaded by plastic Santas and Frosty the Snowman statues:
The Christmas sections at Obi and Jumbo hardware stores are just as jolly as their American equivalents at Lowe's and Home Depot.
(Photographs copyright fotofreak.ch)
Even the Samichlaus Arrival Night has changed: Instead of the traditional, all red hooded cape, many Santas nowadays wear American Santa hats with the bonbon ball tip. In fact, the Santa hat and suites were commercially created by Coca Cola.
These days, I have spotted American style Santas with the iconic black belt in Swiss shopping malls. Adverts are featuring stockings to be filled by Santa on Christmas Day. It seems as if globalization is at work, merging the Santa and Samichlaus custom here in Switzerland...