Santa Claus is set to make an early appearance in some parts of Switzerland this weekend accompanied not by a reindeer but by a donkey.This content was published on November 29, 2001 - 08:16
Known in German as "Samichlaus", the traditional Swiss Santa Claus - St Nicolas in French - has a somewhat different role from his counterpart in many English-speaking countries. His home is the forest rather than the North Pole, he has an assistant called "Schmutzli" and he keeps a low profile when Christmas finally arrives.
Officially, Santa Claus makes his dramatic entrance on December 6, which is the patron saint's day. From a book carried by Schmutzli he reads out to young children a brief summary of how they've behaved during the past year, and gives good advice to those of them who - for example - have consistently failed to keep their bedrooms tidy.
Sometimes the children are asked to recite a verse or sing a song, and then before departing with their donkey the festive duo hands out oranges, tangerines, nuts and other sweets.
But in the city of Fribourg and surrounding villages, Santa Claus arrives almost as early as the Christmas decorations already festooning many stores. By tradition, he's the focal point of a colourful procession this Saturday in Fribourg, where the cathedral is named after St Nicolas.
Saturday also marks the beginning of Advent, the period leading up to Christmas, when candles are lit every Sunday in December before the 25th and the first windows are opened on Advent calendars.
Most Advent calendars are simple affairs, with windows revealing seasonal pictures or small gifts such as chocolates. But this year, for those who can afford it there's the chance to buy a calendar stuffed with luxury items.
It's in the form of a scale model of a Swiss villa in Le Locle, three of which have been made by the pen and accessory firm, Montblanc. Each model costs the equivalent of SFr 1.2 million and includes a diamond-encrusted pen.
Harrods of Knightsbridge is displaying one of them, and The Times newspaper quotes the London spokeswoman for Montblanc as saying: "The only thing we have forgotten is chocolate. You have to make do with a £5,000 (SFr11,720) watch instead."
by Richard Dawson
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