SANTA CLARA — There’s about to be a little more Santa in Santa Clara.
A Swiss Christmas tradition is coming to the Southern Utah city for the first time on Monday as the Samichlaus Abend — translated from German Swiss as “Santa Night” – will be held from 7-8 p.m., at Santa Clara Town Hall.
The free event will duplicate the annual Samichlaus Abend that is celebrated in Switzerland on the same day and will feature the sounds of carolers, the deliciousness of hot chocolate and donuts as well as a 7:30 p.m. lighting, not of a traditional Christmas tree but of the large pecan tree on the Town Hall grounds. Most importantly, it will feature the Swiss equivalent of Santa Claus: Samichlaus and his trusted assistant Schmutzli.
Santa Clara City Council member Leina Mathis said the idea for the event started with the idea of lighting up a tree in Santa Clara and morphed into an idea for a new holiday tradition.
Mathis said she, Mayor Rick Rosenberg and other council members were attending a conference out of town when they drove by a large, lit community tree. Looking at the twinkling lights, Rosenberg mentioned it had always been a dream of his to light up one of the large trees on Santa Clara Drive. In turn, Mathis wondered why Santa Clara didn’t have a large community event for Christmas.
“I spent the evening reading about Swiss Christmas traditions and the next morning let him know what I had found and suggested that we combine his dream of a tree lighting with a Swiss Christmas celebration and start a new community tradition,” Mathis said.
On Monday, Santa Clara will make its first crack at both lighting up a tree on Santa Clara Drive and trying to start a new Christmas tradition in the city.
According to the St. Nicolas Society of Zurich, which holds the largest celebration in Switzerland, Samichlaus Abend marks the traditional start of the Christmas season, similar to how Thanksgiving is treated as the start of the holiday season in the states.
In Switzerland, the Swiss Santa does not go down chimneys, ride a sleigh carried by reindeer or bear gifts. Instead, the St. Nicholas Society says Samichlaus rides in on a donkey alongside his trusted assistant Schmutzli.
Samichlaus has the long white beard and red clothing that would be familiar to American kids, while Schmutzli wears a dark-hooded cape that hides his face and carries a dusty broom.
Armed with a report of a child’s behavior over the past year, Samichlaus provides a mandarin orange, peanuts and chocolates to children who have behaved well. There’s a reason for Schmutzli to seem a bit more sinister, as according to Swiss tradition, a child that has misbehaved throughout the year will receive a smack from Schmutzli’s broom.
Another difference between Santa Claus and Samichlaus is the Swiss Santa takes Christmas day off.
“Samichlaus does not come on Dec. 25 as that is reserved for the baby Jesus and is the traditional Heiliger Abend or Holy Night,” Mathis said.
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