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...
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’!
omg i am SO JEALOUS of mamiko!!!!! i LOVE samichlaus and schmutzli’s – it would make my life to my picture with them!
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.
[…] 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 […]
I just like saying Schmutzli.
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 :-)
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.
[…] Samichlaus, Swiss Santa, lives in a forest with his helper Schmutzli. They leave the forest with a donkey carrying bags […]
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.
I wasn’t aware of that episode – will have to look it up!
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.
[…] Source:newlyswissed […]
Aww, fond memories of my childhood. I only had a visit once though. As a 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!
Thanks for sharing this lovely memory! Sami Niggi Näggi, hinderem Ofe steggi… ^Dimitri
I miss Christmas in Switzerland. There’s nothing like it.
[…] 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 […]
[…] 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 […]
[…] Source:newlyswissed […]
[…] 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 […]