Swiss Santa is not exactly a jolly good fellow like his American counterpart. He is not mean spirited, either. But yet, his job description differs quite a bit.
Here is an overview of the Swiss Santa tradition from my own perspective. It is important to note that the details of how this tradition is carried out differs significantly within Switzerland. Each linguistic region has their own traditions, and catholic cantons vary from protestant cantons.
December 6 is Santa Day in Switzerland
Regardless of where you are located, December 6 is the traditional Santa Day in Switzerland. On this day, "Samichlaus" and his companion "Schmutzli" (as they are called in Swiss German) will emerge from their cottage in the woods to visit children at their kindergartens, classrooms and homes.
Rather than flying on a reindeer-pulled sleigh, Samichlaus and Schmutzli walk across the countryside with a donkey in tow.
Rehearsing of Santa poems in exchange for goodies
Once they reach town, Samichlaus and Schmutzli have their work cut out for them. One by one, they will visit families at their home. Since Samichlaus has a special Santa bell attached to his waist, the trot can be heard loud and clear from afar.
Some families take the time to decorate their living room with candles and Christmas lights. Others might host Samichlaus in their yard where they might have a bonfire going. And yet other homes show no signs of the festive season whatsoever.
Once seated, Samichlaus with his deep voice will narrate a heartwarming story. Next up, children are expected to rehearse a poem and make a promise to better themselves for the upcoming year. To thank them for their poems, Schmutzli will hand them a gingerbread cookie from his sack.
And finally, the emptying of the big bag. Whether they have been naughty or nice, children are left with a pile of walnuts, peanuts, chocolates, tangerines, and gingerbreads...
As you can tell, a Santa visit is not a bad deal for those kids who have studied up.
Here are some nostalgic Swiss Santa memories from my own childhood:
Did you know that in decades past, children would be trapped in Schmutzli's bag and carried out the door? Who knows, maybe the fear of being kidnapped is the real reason why the Swiss are generally well behaved...
Apart from nuts and sweets, Swiss Santa is not in charge of dropping off presents for the children. (Climbing down a chimney on Christmas Morning is only in the job description of his American counterpart.) In Switzerland, delivering Christmas presents has been outsourced to the Christkind...
At the annual Santa Parade in Zürich
The annual Santa Parade in Zürich is a great way for newcomers to get acquainted with the Swiss Santa tradition. We've attended this event at Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich several times.
This Samichlaus was checking on a kid to see how the rehearsing is going, although there were several days left before the Samichlaus Day:
Here is a traditional Samichlaus/Schmutzli combo on Bahnhofstrasse, or as I like to call them: Good Cop and Bad Cop!
This Samichlaus found a liking in Mamiko's American attire, but I do not exactly understand the significance of Schmutzli's geeky pair of Harry Potter glasses… I guess this is what they call "pop culture"!
These little Schmutzli tots were too adorable to miss in the parade:
We were very happy to find a group of American Santas who drove their Harleys down from the North Pole. And this despite the high gas prices...