Airdate: Dec 08, 1998
Scientist: Regina Bendix
KLAUSJAGEN-History and Meaning
This celebration in honor of St. Nicholas was traditionally a day of mischief.
In the Swiss village of Kussnacht am Rigi, they usher in the holiday season this week with the cracking of whips. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
The holiday is Klausjagen, and it means literally "chasing the Klaus," a reference to St. Nicholas - whom we know as Santa Claus. Now, December sixth is St. Nicholas's Day, but Klausjagen is blending of the Catholic holiday with what may be a much older celebration. Regina Bendix, Assistant Professor of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, explains:
"There used to be a kind of a noise festivity where they did a lot of geisle, which is to make noise with long whips. Where you sort of rhythmically get them to click. Apparently up until the turn of the century, that was the major ingredient of this festivity."
The whip cracking may be a remnant of an ancient celebration, which tended to get pretty rowdy. The imposition of St. Nicholas's day at the same time of year led to the unofficial custom of some local youths chasing the figure representing St. Nicholas. In the 1920's a group of villagers in Kssnacht decided to bring some order to the chaos, and created a modern, tamer version of Klausjagen.
"There's a lot of documentation of the Catholic Church or other authorities trying to eradicate unruly behavior. And running about at night with these whips or with cowbells which is another component of this festivity, making noise for three to four days before St. Nicholas Day was considered unruly behavior."
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation.