Airdate: Dec 03, 1997
Scientist: Regina Bendix
Whips, bells and giant paper bishop’s hats characterize Switzerland’s Klausjagen celebration.
On the shores of Switzerland's Lake Lucerne, in the village of Kuessnacht am Rigi, preparations are underway this week for the celebration of Klausjagen. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
On the evening of December 5th, the lights of Kuessnacht go out and a procession of sound and light fills the streets, in celebration of St. Nicholas's Day. The sounds are made by groups of people ringing bells, blowing horns and cracking whips, and the lights come from folks wearing huge paper bishop's hats, some as large as 4 feet high, lit from within by candles.
"The lights are called iffele. They are made out of double-sided paper. It's made like a papercut - very fancy, ornate designs, and the whole thing is shaped like a cathedral window, so the whole effect of it, once it is finished and has candles on the inside, is the effect of a lit cathedral window."
Regina Bendix is an Assistant Professor of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. She tells us that the procession begins with the rhythmic cracking of whips, which herald the arrival of St. Nicholas.
"Then come the men with the bells. And that is, in terms of sound, overwhelming. The bells, if you have something like 500 men carrying bells, walking past you in rows of 5, and swinging these bells in unison, it's enormously loud. And after this enormous noise, come the lit figures, so you have to switch from this sort of sound power, to hardly any sound, and you see these lit cathedral windows kind of swimming past you almost."
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.