Advent (6)

St. Nicholas’ Day!

December 6th in Switzerland traditionally brings the Santas out in their droves, some with a companion, Schmutzli, others with a real donkey to carry their sacks of goodies. Some are dressed in a more global “Santa” style, others follow a more classic bishop’s robes look and the beards are usually really, really fake-looking!

Children may or may not know one of the traditional rhymes learnt by heart (“Sami, Niki, Näki, hinterem Ofe stecki, gimmer Nuss und Birre, dänn chum i wieder füre…” for example) to earn a little jute sack filled with peanuts in their shells, mandarines and a variety of small, foil-covered chocolates in all colours of the rainbow, as well as a “Biber”, a particular type of soft, spiced biscuit, sometimes filled with marzipan, and with a paper picture of a Swiss Santa stuck to the front. Some children get a small gift, but it’s not obligatory. The day usually also includes the consumption of a Grittibänz (Grattibänz, Bänzli, Teigmännli… depending on your dialect!), a dough man made of simple yeast dough with raisins for eyes and usually a small clay pipe or a little switch clutched in his twisted hands.

Adults will often distribute mandarines/tangerines to fellow students or workmates or to anyone they feel “responsible” for, and there are many Chlausabend events on, which can involve soup or fondue followed by copious amounts of the aforesaid nuts, chocolates and mandarines and candlelight. Not sure why the mandarines, but they certainly seem to be “mand”-atory! Both Swiss white and red wines are very good and it’s likely they will be served in the course of the evening, unless mulled wine is made and distributed, either with or without alcohol. Whatever the details, everyone seems to be able to enjoy themselves and it does get people into the mood for the rest of Advent!

3 thoughts on “Advent (6)

  1. I had almost forgotten about St. Nick. Thank you for bringing back some memories. If I didn’t mention it before – I love your photography. What an eye!!! The above photo (and many throughout your blog) could be postcards or framed.
    I am so glad so started this blog.

  2. The artistic/literary genes go much further back than that – talk to your Granny!
    I did enjoy this article, and it’s interesting how each of the German-speaking countries has so many little idiosyncratic customs, national and regional variations on a theme. Thanks for focusing on the Swiss ones. Believe it or not, I actually got a little Santa Biber in Florida (it went with us) and a piece of Grittibänz on my return to Zurich!

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