Whipping Santa: Klausjagen Festival
Where it's at
This Yuletide, on the shores of picturesque Lake Lucerne, Switzerland in the quaint town of Kussnacht, something very strange is afoot. Held on the 5th of December every year, the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, the Klausjagen is truly one of the weirdest festivals in Switzerland, a nation usually renowned for its restraint. Klausjagen literally means 'chasing the Klaus' and the festival is believed to have sprung from an age-old tradition to chase away evil spirits. The way good ol' Santa got implicated into this celebration however, is not as clear.
What happens at Klausjagen
The festivities only begin after sunset but the villagers are already busy preparing for several days beforehand. The 'iffele' craftsmen are the busiest, putting the finishing touches to creating huge paper bishop hat lanterns lit inside with candles, which are a highlight of the festival.
The sun sets and the street lights go out, engulfing the crowd in utter darkness… then from a distance you can hear the sound of giant cracking whips (up to 8ft in length) as sharp as gun shots filling the air, signalling the start of the procession. The iffele lantern bearers follow, carried by some 150 men, casting a glow on the darkened streets. St Nicolas follows, accompanied by four dark elves disguised as chimney sweeps, representing the darker sides of life, accompanied by the cheer of the crowd and in hot pursuit follows a brass band.
Then the fun really begins. Some 700 men dressed in traditional farmers shirts carry alpine cow bells, rung in a cacophonic unison. Next comes 180 horn blowers, create enough noise to stir the dead. The procession last around 2 hours and spectators who have overcome the constant ringing in their ears are welcome to join in.
Next the feasting begins, with crowds hopping from restaurant to restaurant, indulging in tasty meat, sauerkraut and potatoes.