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Almost all of Switzerland celebrates St Nicholas Day (December 6) on some level, but nowhere is it more colorful and unforgettable than in the village of Küssnacht near Lucerne. On December 5, (the evening prior to St. Nicholas Day) a remarkable processional known as “Klausjagen” (“Santa Chasing”) wends its way through the cobblestone streets of this medieval town on the shores of Lake Luzern.
The event begins when Küssnacht shuts off all its lights and plunges the awaiting crowd into complete darkness. Costumed helpers move the crowd back and the loud whipcracking begins. Dozens of local farmers lead off the six-stage parade snapping their longs whips along the route producing a explosive sound louder than a firecracker. Next come the iffelen, hundreds of large illuminated hats (some over 7 feet tall) cut into intricate patterns illuminated from within by lit candles. They glisten like walking stained glass windows. The men and boys in white robes balance these pieces of religious-themed artwork on their heads and spin down the parade route to the adoring cheers of those along the parade route.
Then comes St Nicholas and his four attendants, followed by a marching band playing the Santa song (about six notes long, repeated over and over) the ringing of the almost deafening trychlen bells (loud ceremonial bells) and the tooting of cow horns. The traditions, many centuries old, were designed to drive away evil spirits at the darkest time of the year.
The Klausjagen celebration and procession was banned by the Catholic church in 1756. But the tradition re-emerged in the late 1800s with a more Christian focus. Now the parade draws over 20,000 visitors a year for this single-night procession and festival through the streets of Küssnacht each December 5.
Klausjagen is an unforgettable and included feature on Alpenwild's Christmas in Switzerland tour. It begins with a cruise on Lake Luzern with a fondue dinner. On the return from Küssnacht by boat, you'll enjoy dessert before arriving back in Luzern.