St. Nicholas & the Chlauseslä

Unterägeri, Switzerland

Wooden Chlaussel
Photo: Chlauseslä, Unterägeri
Used by permission

The true spirit of St. Nicholas is kept in the village of Unterägeri. Keeping customs going back to the 16th century, the focus here is on giving to help children and young people in Third World countries. Recent beneficiaries include projects in the Sudan, Haiti, Pakistan, and Moscow.

Festivities begin in the afternoon of the eve of St. Nicholas day when primary school children go through their neighborhoods between three and five o'clock, carrying chlaussesels, donkey-like wooden objects with a mouth that opens and closes. Children make one in school and keep it throughout their lives. The neck has a sack with an opening for putting treats, decorated with streamers of cloth or crepe paper. Much like Halloween trick 'er treating in the United States, the children hold the clausesläl up to the window, ring bells, and then receive small gifts of sweets, nuts, coins, or a tangerine.

After five, teenagers and adults form rottã, or groups, to collect donations for the charitable projects. A Samichlaus leads each group, accompanied by a Schmutzli. There are also iffãlã, large, magnificent lanterns, shaped like miters, enormous cow bells, carried on yokes, men blowing cow horns, others with sheep herding whips, and, of course, chlausesel. The large bells and whips require a lot of strength. All of this makes quite a lot of noise, bringing people to their door. At each stop Samichlaus asks for a donation and gives any children a few nuts. There are usually five rottä going through the village.

Samichlaus with Schmutzli
Samichlaus and Schmutzli
Schmutzli with white donkey
Schmutzli with donkey
Lantern with picture of a building
Iffälä lantern
Man with yoke of cow bells
Large cow bells
Photos: Chlauseslä, Unterägeri Used by permission
Man blowing cow horn
Horns are part of the celebration
Man with sheep whip, others with lanterns
Man cracking sheep herding whip

All gather in the town square at 9:30 for a grand procession of everyone from the rottä—all the Samichlaus, Schmutzli, and people with lanterns, bells, horns, and whips. At its conclusion the townspeople quietly return to their homes and things settle back to a quiet winter night.

St Nicholas and lanterns
One of the Rottä groups
Girls processing with lanterns
Iffälä in procession
Samichlaus in procession
Samichlaus with donkey
Rottae group
Samichlaus with Rottä
Photos: Chlauseslä, Unterägeri
Used by permission
Rottae group lanterns
Rottä group with iffälä

Clauseslä takes place on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, 5 December, unless it is a Sunday, when it is held Saturday the 4th.

Click for a pattern for an Iffälä lantern


More about Chlauseslä

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