Monday, January 25, 2016

Happy New Year?

When does the New Year actually begin? In Switzerland's canton of Appenzell, there is disagreement about the date. Back in the 16th century, the Pope "improved" the Julian calendar by moving the start of the year back 13 days. The Protestants protested this change and continued to celebrate the New Year on what we now call January 13. 

The little village of Urnäsch celebrates the New Year on January 13 with none other than cowbells and odd costumes. The Swiss are so great about continuing festivals that have happened for centuries. It took some persistence to learn exactly when and where to go to witness the "Silvesterchläusen which made it a last minute trip, but I found one person available to make the excursion with me. 

center of Urnäsch

I had discovered a tiny museum in Urnäsch online and since it was advertised to close at 11:30, we decided to go there first. It was helpful to learn more about what we would soon be looking for outside. 
There are three kinds of Silvesterchläusen: the beautiful ones, the ugly ones and the woodland or nature ones.

The beautiful ones always have two dressed as women (Rolli) with small bells (one is the leader and one comes at the end of the line). The men wear solid color outfits and have two large cowbells. The headdresses are intricately designed to represent country life and all wear masks. This type of Chläusen has existed since the 19th century.

a much older beautiful costume (+100 years)

The woodland and nature Chläusen wear costumes and masks made from nature, but do not appear as wild or monsters. This type of Chläuse was created by a group from Urnäsch less than two centuries ago. 

The costumes of the woodland Chläusen we saw were much simpler than those in the museum. These costumes look like they could have been stored and reused, but not the ones we saw out in the town.

shadowbox on back of costume
The last group is the ugly Chläusen.  They wear fearsome masks and costumes also made from nature. These figures that scare away evil spirits with noise and their frightening dress are presumably the original Chläusen


This tradition is only for the men. The women's responsibility is to tolerate the men in their life spending their time with others preparing costumes, etc. 

In groups of 5 - 6 people, the Silvesterchläusen go to private homes to greet the owners. They sing something that sounds like yodeling as there are no words, but they say it's not yodeling. (the quality of singing varied drastically between groups) After the singing is finished, they ring their bells. The ones with the harnesses jump up and down and turn in circles to ring their bells. The others just need to sway back and forth to make the large bells gong. Then they greet the homeowner and move on to the next place. 

Walking around Urnäsch we saw some of all examples of Silvesterchläusen

the ugly:

private home - maybe they had a visit from Silvesterchläusen
The woodland people had different kinds of head coverings, some included masks and some not. I don't know how they could see without the mask.

masked group


no masks

I can see you - can you see me?

Boys start at a young age. 


 We followed the sound of the bells to find the groups. 

bells announce the group coming down the hill

 Another variety of woodland:

We only saw one group of the pretty:


shaking hands with the homeowner before leaving

Urnäsch, a very small village, does not have a lot of restaurants. Although some said "reservations only", we had lucky timing and found a seat at the last option. They were prepared for the day with special placemats. We rolled up ours before the food came and brought them home!

my placemat
The little museum had plenty of other interesting displays of Swiss culture.
The process for making wooden baskets and the finished product with beautifully painted bottoms.

each cow carved from a different kind of wood

only one with a bell

nice group, but weird identical faces
 Life size wooden sculptures of folk musicians

Swiss designs in sound holes of dulcimer. This instrument could be played by museum guests - I played it, badly. Needs tuning too. 

You can tell by the glare that I did not take this picture which hangs in the museum, but I love it. When you gotta go, you gotta go! So funny.

some things can't wait

Even though Urnäsch is a tiny village, it is the only place in Switzerland that celebrates with Silvesterchläusen on January 13. It was even newsworthy - appeared in the local free newspaper in Zurich on January 14. 

Since returning home, I discovered that someone else I know was in Urnäsch that morning. She actually made the effort to get there before dawn to see the start of the festivities. I know several people who want to go next year. I could be convinced to go again, but for arrival by dawn is doubtful. I have a year to consider that. 

I wonder what other quirky festivals I will discover.