Silvesterclaus in Switzerland

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While in Vienna, people walk pigs on a leash in the hope of bringing good luck for the coming year, in many Christian households in Germany the day is celebrated by pouring lead (Silvesterblei, Bleigiessen) into an old spoon over a flame and then dropping it into a bowl of cold water; the shape of the lead is used to predict the person’s luck for the coming year. If the lead is in the shape of a ball (der Ball), it will be lucky all year round, while the star (der Stern) represents alternating luck.

If Switzerland, then a New Year’s Eve cradle

The Silvesterklaus or New Year’s Eve cradle (Swiss German: Chlaus) means a man dressed up as St. Sylvester or a New Year’s Eve figure. In the Reformed canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, New Year’s Eve is still celebrated in this way.


St. New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day, is actually commemorated twice in the world, once on 31 December according to the Gregorian calendar and once on 13 January according to the Julian calendar. On both days, the Silvesterkläuse dress up in strange costumes and go from house to house in small groups, ringing huge bells sewn on their backs and singing very slow-paced yodels to wish people a happy New Year. If 31 December or 13 January falls on a Sunday, the celebrations are held on the Saturday before.

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It is believed that the Chlausen festival is not of pagan origin, but can be traced back to a late medieval Advent tradition involving students from a monastic school. In the 15th century, when the celebrations became increasingly wild, erotic and carnival-like, the Catholic Church found this behaviour hardly appropriate for the Advent holy season, which in turn explains why the Chlausen tradition was moved from Advent to New Year’s Eve.

The tradition is first mentioned in 1663, when the church authorities objected to such noisy celebrations. In the Catholic semi-canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, some 18th century records state that participation in the ‘Chlausen’ tradition was punished with a heavy fine of five talers. Despite this, the tradition persisted in the Catholic semi-canton to a small extent until 1900, because it was more or less tacitly tolerated by the local district authorities. This was particularly the case in the border areas close to the Reformed Appenzell Ausserrhoden, for example in Haslen, surrounded on three sides by the villages of Hundwil, Stein, Teufen and Buehler Ausserrhoden, or in Gonten, near Urnäsch and Hundwil. Mixed groups were also formed, combining members of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (this still happens occasionally), and there were sometimes isolated actors.

Today, the tradition is kept alive in the Protestant canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Three different types of Silvesterchläuse are distinguished: the Schöne (beautiful), the Schö-Wüeschte (beautiful-ugly) and the Wüeschte (ugly).

The Schöne-Beautiful are very ornate headgear compositions depicting scenes of peasant life, local customs and crafts, special buildings, sports or family life, which require hundreds of hours of intensive work. Their costumes resemble local folk costumes.

I wish you to all a jolly happy 2022! Cheers!

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