Unlike in the United States where I live now, Santa Claus (or Samichlaus in Zurich dialect) is celebrated on December 6, in my original home country. He doesn't breeze in on a reindeer either, but walks at a leisurely pace next to a donkey, loaded with presents.
In the United States, Santa Claus is the bringer of Christmas gifts. In Switzerland, this role is fulfilled by the Christkind (the Christ child), an angel who flies from Heaven with the gifts and puts them under the tree on Christmas Eve while the children have to wait in their bedrooms. They stand by the window, staring into the night, hoping to spot the Angel flying down from Heaven. Of course, they never see him/her, but they hear the bell ring. This is the signal that tells them that everything is ready. They dash from the bedroom to the Christmas tree in the living room, where the presents are stacked under the tree. At least, this is the way it was when I was a child. Of course, a lot has changed since then.
Accompanying Samichlaus on December 6, is his helper, the Schmutzli. His name, Schmutzli, comes from "Schmutz" (dirt) and refers to his "dirty" face (smeared with ashes). Whereas Santa Claus is the light and good force, his helper, originally Knecht Ruprecht in the old days, represents the darker side. While Santa Claus is the bringer of gifts for the childen, Schmutzli punishes them if they were disobedient during the year. There is a rich tradition (both secular and religious) around these two figures. Interested? Read this!
Nowadays, however, both Samichlaus and Schmutzli are kind men (although Schmutzli still looks a little scary in his black robe and his face smeared with ashes). Schmutzli's basic role now is helping Santa Claus distribute gifts--mandarines, peanuts, and the famous Lebkuchen (ginger bread).
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Samichlaus - Sankt Nikolaus (Santa Claus) visits Switzerland on December 6!
Christa Polkinhorn, originally from Switzerland, lives and works as writer and translator in Santa Monica, California. She divides her time between the United States and Switzerland and has strong ties to both countries. She is the author of five novels and a collection of poems. Her travels and her interest in foreign cultures inform her work and her novels take place in several countries. Aside from writing and traveling, she is an avid reader and a lover of the arts, dark chocolate, and red wine.