Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas Traditions

While yesterday was St. Nicolas Day for most in Europe, I found a very interesting book last night containing many of the Canadian traditions for the Christmas season.

With being an expat since 2001, I have been searching and figuring out the traditions of the world because I was just too oblivious to other traditions. After stumbling upon a great show last night about traveling through the Interlaken area, it prompted me to figure out where the foundations for the Swiss traditions started.

One notable tradition if you go to Lucern is the beautiful livesize advent calendar (seen above) which adorns an area of the downtown shopping area. If you've ever been shopping in Lucern during Christmas, I'm sure you seen this famous calendar.

In Switzerland on the eve of December 5, the tiny village of Küssnacht am Rigi in canton Schwyz comes to life with the "Chasing of St Nicholas". Men dressed in white robes hold large headpieces designed from cardboard known as "Infuln" as they march through the town with a candle lit inside. St Nicholas himself appears at the rear of this procession, escorted by several Schmutzlis (his assistants) and torch-bearers. Several hundred men known as Klausjäger, or pursuers in white farmers' shirts march with traditional large Swiss cow bells swinging from their hips.

St Nicholas is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears on December 6, when children awake to find the shoe or boot they put out the night before filled with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies, as in Germany.

Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of January 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.
Who brings the presents?
Traditionally, children in Catholic areas were told that the presents were brought by the Christkind (German), Le petit Jésus (French), or Gesu Bambino. But probably these days children are just as familiar with the character almost universally recognized as Santa Claus.
Here is more information about Swiss Christmas Traditions. However, I'll be wrapping up all of my Christmas shopping as the family comes today to combine early Christmas and wedding all in one. I'm off the rest of the week to make sure all of the last minute wedding details are complete. So I don't expect to be here all too much until next week when I start my new life.

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