Altersilvester in Urnäsch

The New Year's Eve is the most impressive winter holiday in Appenzellerland. 


Saint Sylvester, or New Year’s Eve is commemorated twice here: once according to the Gregorian calendar on 31st of December and the second time on the 13th of January, according to the Julian calendar, which was used until the 19th century. The tradition is kept very much alive in the protestant half-canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and I braved the horrid wether just to see it from the wee hours. They start in the outer districts around Urnäsch, at 5 am with breakfast at the local restaurants or guesthouses. After having breakfast together (visitors also welcome to join for breakfast and to watch the preparations) the first groups or "Schuppel" start their "Strech"  (route) at about 6.00 am. So I took the advice from a very nice old lady from the local tourist office and reserved myself a seat at the Rossfall restaurant and guesthouse. So I woke up at 4 am to be there at 4:45 am ready follow step by step the whole processing.

Sweep through the gallery bellow to see more picture of the preparations: breakfast, getting dressed and the yodelling at the Rossfall venue.

Chluis is distinguished by three species: the "Wüscht", the "Schöne" and the "Schöwüeschte" or Natuurläuse. They occur almost exclusively in "Schuppel" (groups). Even in the first dawn of New Year's Eve, many of the Chlausschuppel are on the way in the vicinity of the municipalities, to "chlausen" and "zauren" with friends. A unique spectacle is offered to the spectators when the chlause groups move into the villages. They are usually heard with their bells from afar.​In english language this would be: Masked crazy folks in silly clothes making loud noises with their bells in the New Years Eve, wandering from house to house to wish well and bring joy. A bit like our "colindat" in Transilvanya or "trick or treat". They don't sing carols like in Transilvanya (words), they yodel. 

When the last group of 6 started to get ready for the route, I decided to leave too, following their trail and watch them go from house to house.  Let me explain a bit about the groups as I understand it. Every group plans its tour carefully in advance. A group consists of six people. One is the leading Klaus and has a white flower in his mouth, his follower, should have a blue one. Some of the figures carry big straps with jingle bells on their chests and backs and perform a specific dance before and after each singing and when entering or leaving a home, marking a hello and goodbye. What I also learned is that even if the characters may represent either men or women, in fact only men take part because of the weight of these costumes. 

I was impressed how strong these men were to wear such heavy costumes, masks and bells and climb hills in such a bad, stormy and cold weather.

The festival dates back over 200 years and the fact that the participants still go from house to house same way they did back then is special. Not so many places in the world were able to maintain their old customs alive as Appenzellerland does. In front of a house they anounce their presence by creating lots of noise, singing, ringing bells and ushering in the New Year with lots of fun. Then they stand in a circle, singing calmly the traditional yodel songs - a "Zäuerli". This is as a calm and solemn moment.  They have this ritual usually three times. Then the "Chläuse" wish the house owner and his family a good new year with a strong hand shake and move to the next house in the same order as they came.​Nobody in the village remains unvisited.​

As they go from house to house wishing people a good new year they are given something to drink and small presents of money to contribute towards their lavish costumes which involve hours and hours of work to make. It’s all very heavy work and very noisy too!

Because of the stormy weather, the "Schöne" were not out this time. It is unknown to me if they were out at all during the day as I was only able to stay until the afternoon. With the knowledge and contacts made this year, I will try my luck again next year. My main goals were achieved: see the morning manifestations and test my new #Fujifilm #X-t2 during a long outdoor event. I am extremely pleased with the performance and looking forward for my wide lens and second body. Not missing my over 20 KG old backpack.​I found Urnäsch a welcoming place, perfect even for a family trip and looking forward for 2018 celebrations. Couldn't recommend it enough.



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