Swiss Christmas Tradition: Klausjagen
As evening breaks on December 5th, the sound of bells and whips will fill the crisp winter night of our small village in central Switzerland. It’s officially time for the tradition of Klausjagen (sometimes spelt Chlausjagen) - literally translated into “chasing the chlaus” - and it has been an Advent highlight for many generations.
Traditionally men and boys (slowly, girls in our village are joining in too) form groups, dress in white Hirtenhemd (a shepherd’s shirt) and black or red hats, and carry trycheln (bells) around the village, ringing as they go.
The younger groups have someone carrying an iffele (latern worn on the head made out of cardboard and tissue paper), someone with a whip (that is cracked as they walk), as well as a horn, with the rest of the group carrying the bells. Older groups have a Samichlaus (The Swiss Santa) and Schmutzlis (Samichlaus’ helper) with them. They go from house to house scaring away the evil spirits with their loud noise. Families greet them with a refreshment, warm orange punch for the kids, beer (or stronger) for the adults and a small monetary donation.
There are variations of this tradition throughout villages in central Switzerland with the the most famous being in Küssnacht am Rigi, where people come from all around the world to experience their Klausjagen parade each year - an over 100 year old tradition. The sounds of whips cracking (called “Geisselchlepfer”) warm up the crowds before the village plunges into darkness at exactly 8.15pm. The parade begins with 100s of stained-glass window inspired paper lanterns lit by candles called Iffelen which are carried down the street with Samichlaus and some Schumtzlis following behind. Rounding up the rear of the parade are the noisy trycheln (bells) and horns. Check out the parade route here.
Whether you are in Küssnacht for the big celebration or in a village with smaller groups of Klausjagen it’s a noisy night— so if you bring a pair of earplugs they probably won’t go unused. The older groups in our village often stay out all night long, and our local high school even arranges a special programme for the next day so the kids don’t have to worry about getting to bed on time.