Strange Santa sightings in Switzerland
At the World Santa Claus Championships in Switzerland, teams participate in holiday-themed competitions. (Engadin.com)
Those hoping to catch a glimpse of Saint Nick before 24 December should head to Switzerland where the jolly old fellow makes appearances early and often.
On 30 November and 1 December, the ski resort Silvretta Arena Samnaun/Ischgl in eastern Switzerland celebrates ClauWau, or the World Santa Claus Championships. The annual event brings several four-person Santa teams from around the world, dressed from head to toe in red and white, to compete in holiday-themed competitions, like chimney climbing, snowshoe obstacle course relays and Santa Clauben, an event where each team must crawl under a giant Santa hat and pick up gift-like packages along a course dotted with hay bales and pine trees.
The four teams with the fastest combined time qualify for the final obstacle course relay. The team that traverses the obstacle course the fastest wins the title of Santa Claus World Champion, along with 1,500 Swiss francs in prize money. Less athletic teams have a shot to win 300 Swiss francs for best costume during the Santa Parade on 1 December, where a jury evaluates a team’s costumes on originality, authenticity and overall appearance.
In the town of Kussnacht in central Switzerland, Santa needs all the exercise he can get to be ready for the Klausjagen (literally translated as “chasing the Claus”) on the night of 5 December. A mix between an ancient pagan holiday and a Catholic celebration, the Klausjagen brings together 1,500 locals in a show of light and sound.
At around 8:15 pm, the town lights go out and the sound of whips echos through the town. Then, about 200 men walk the route wearing half- to full-metre-tall paper bishop hats, lit from within by candles and cut with intricate, stained glass window-like designs featuring Saint Nicholas. Soon after, the saint himself arrives with his entourage, wearing a traditional bishop’s hat and red fur cape, with 10 whip-cracking farmers “chasing” him. While early versions of the festival involved the town’s youth running behind Saint Nick, today’s parade has the farmers following behind at a slower, dignified pace. The event concludes with more than 1,000 people playing brass instruments, ringing large bells and sounding cow horns.
The chase attracts nearly 20,000 visitors each year, hoping for the Swiss Santa to leave some sweets in their shoes the next morning.