As advent begins, a number of special events are getting underway across Switzerland including Christmas markets and a bizarre "bishop" ritual.This content was published on November 22, 2002 - 08:59
The pseudo ecclesiastical event takes place every December 5 at precisely 8.15pm in the small village of Küssnacht on Lake Lucerne.
The streetlights are extinguished and out of the darkness hundreds of men appear in procession, each carrying a heavy bell that is rung once with every step. They are followed silently by dozens of others wearing giant headdresses, resembling bishop hats.
Candlelight shines through intricate patterns carved out of the cardboard headdresses, which bear a striking resemblance to stained glass windows found in Gothic churches.
Some are two metres high, weigh up to 20 kilogrammes, and are the result of as much as 700 hours of work.
The event is called "Klausjagen" (pursuit of St Nicholas) and is one of the most popular pre-Christmas traditions in Switzerland, drawing thousands of curious spectators to the normally sleepy village.
The procession of light and bells then follows St Nicholas and three black-faced companions known as "Schmutzli" (schmutz = dirt) through the streets of Küssnacht.
As is the tradition elsewhere in Switzerland, they carry rods in case they need to dish out punishment to naughty children, but are usually more compassionate, handing out fruit and nuts.
A number of excellent examples of the headdresses (Infuln) are on permanent display in the "Heimat" (heritage) museum in Küssnacht.
Elsewhere around Switzerland, Christmas shoppers are out in force hunting for those Yuletide gifts at hundreds of seasonal markets.
Two of the most splendid and quintessentially Swiss markets take place in the alpine resort of St Moritz and the lakeside town of Montreux.
St Moritz will come to life on December 5 as the town's pedestrian zone is transformed into a bustling market place. The alpine town takes on a party atmosphere as more than 80 stalls trade their wares, ranging from handmade silk screen prints to hand blown glass stars.
Hungry shoppers will also be well fed and watered with bars, cafés and bakeries offering well-earned indulgences. Santa Claus will also put in an appearance to give the town's children a pre-Christmas treat.
Montreux launches its three-week-long Christmas market blitz on December 6 with stalls and vendors braving the chilly weather until Christmas Eve.
More than 100 decorated chalets will throw open their doors so that festive shoppers can browse the array of handicrafts and local produce. Aside from the serious business of retail, shoppers will be wooed by people singing on the pavements, street performers and the aroma of warm mulled wine.
Along with Montreux and St Moritz, other Swiss towns and villages such as the capital, Bern and French-speaking Fribourg, will host their own Christmas markets, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to pick up that something special for their loved ones.
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