Learn How Swiss Santa Works

How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works(Photograph copyright by Rick Steves)
As we found out this weekend, Swiss Santa is not exactly a jolly good fellow like his American counterpart. He is not mean spirited either, but his job description differs quite a bit! We attended the annual Santa Parade in Zürich to find out more.

Every year on December 6, kids in Switzerland better not be procrastinating because this is the traditional Santa Day. On this day, "Samichlaus" (as he is called in Swiss German) and his companion "Schmutzli" emerge from their cottage in the woods to visit children at their homes. They do not fly on a reindeer-pulled sleigh, either, but rather shuffle through the snow with a donkey.

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 and ginger breads...

So not a bad deal if you have studied up!

But in decades past, you were actually trapped in Schmutzli's bag and literally kidnapped! That is why, generally speaking, the Swiss are well behaved.

Peanuts is essentially all you are going to get from Swiss Santa though (I speak from experience). He is not one to climb down a chimney either to leave presents under the tree on Christmas Morning. This task has been outsourced to Christkind...
This Samichlaus was checking on a kid to see how the rehearsing is going, although there were several days left before Samichlaus Day:
How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works
Here is a traditional Samichlaus/Schmutzli combo on Bahnhofstrasse, or as I like to call them: Good Cop and Bad Cop!
How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works
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"!
How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works
These little Schmutzli tots were too adorable to miss in the parade!
How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works
We were very happy to find a group of American Santas who drove their Harley's down from the North Pole. And this despite the high gas prices!
How Swiss Samichlaus Santa Works

Bizarre Festivals of Switzerland

Do you have any questions about Samichlaus and Schmutzli? I would be happy to go and interview them for Newly Swissed!

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Dimitri Burkhard

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Newly Swissed GmbH
As the founder, editor and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of the Swiss Travelwriters Club.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.
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19 replies
  1. linda
    linda says:

    ha! two days ago i tried to ‘explain’ my flatmates the story of swiss santa and schmutzli…failed miserably! at least they managed to say ‘samichlaus’!

  2. Wesley
    Wesley says:

    You should know how it is done in the Netherlands ;). The whole idea around “samichlaus” is rather different.

    First of all he is known as “Sinterklaas” arriving in mid November by steam boat from Spain. His helpers are black (because of climbing down chimnees) and are called “Zwarte Piet”. They are so to say his assistance and make jokes and hand out candies. Sinterklaas rides a white horse.

    Sinterklaas celebrates his birthday on the 5th of December and brings kids presents. Up to the 5th of December kids are allowayed to put their shoes at the chimnee so Sinterklaas can give ‘good’ kids some small sweets.

    Nowadays Sinterklaas is as populair (maybe even more) as Christmas.

  3. Jo Furniss
    Jo Furniss says:

    Back in England, the kid goes to see Father Christmas in his grotto and only has to giggle a bit before being shoved out with an enormous toy. Here, the child gets told off for not going to bed when she’s told, threatened with being taken away in a sack, and then given a peanut in a shell she can’t even open… seems to me that Swiss parents just outsource their discipline – and I thoroughly approve :-)

  4. stefan
    stefan says:

    please portrait as well the more traditional st.nikolaus – based on the holy figure. in the towns with catholic background, you can find this kind of samichlaus. especially in wil, when all st.nikolaus come out of church on Saturday 1500 closest to 6th December.

  5. Dominique
    Dominique says:

    The first time I heard about Schmutzli was when I watched American Dad and had to ask my Swiss boyfriend why he kidnapped kids. To some extent, it makes sense.

  6. Lukas Szepesi
    Lukas Szepesi says:

    I don’t think that the job of leaving presents under the tree on christmas has been “outsourced” so to speak. It was never Santas job to begin with. 6th of december is the day of Saint Nicholas and it’s a seperate occasion from Christmas. It’s more like americans made 2 holidays into 1.

  7. crazyknitter
    crazyknitter says:

    Aww, fond memories of my childhood. I only had a visit once though. As grown up I found out you have to pay for the visit. But then I was baffled that he brought the present I really, really wanted. Later I knew why. Hahaha!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] children receive oranges, apples, and nuts. Santa Claus is called Samichlaus in Switzerland, and he does not ride in a sleigh with reindeer pulling it, he rides on a donkey! On Dec. 6th, naughty children are supposedly carried away in Samichlaus’s big sack and told to […]

  2. […] in Switzerland, pretty much your ideal Christmas landscape, and that the holiday starts early here. Samichlaus and Schmutzli make their appearances on the 6th, bearing sweats, oranges, and peanuts. My family also celebrates […]

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] Samichlaus, Swiss Santa, lives in a forest with his helper Schmutzli. They leave the forest with a donkey carrying bags […]

  5. […] going to the Samichlaus umzug or the Samichlaus Parade. To read more about Santa in Switzerland go here. Today we were greeted by Schmutzli which is a Stanta’s helper of sorts. Schmutzli gave me a […]

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