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Bernese Oberland tradition A spirited evening in an alpine village

Meiringen is the meeting place at this time of year for what could be mistaken for a Hallowe'en festival.

People do put on scary masks, but the custom that includes the banging of drums and ringing of giant cow bells ('trychel' in the local German dialect) is a tradition that dates back to the old Germanic customs for the Winter Solstice.

It was considered the time when the spirits try and force their way into the land of the living, so had to be scared away. Every evening from December 25, locals pass through the valley, finally meeting up in Meiringen, the largest village, on December 30.

Every procession has its own character. There are no rules about what to wear. Some villagers dress up as witches or old women. One group dons animal fur and skins, adding ivy and roots from the forest. Around 100 men wear a traditional costume called the Chüejermutz. With measured steps, and with their upper bodies swaying rhythmically, they swing their black Trychel bells in harmony.

Gliding in and out of the processions is the Schnabelgeiss, a monstrous, horned creature, with a long neck and beak, which enjoys scaring the children, and the many tourists who have come to watch.

(Pictures and text: Christoph Balsiger, 2015 in Meiringen)

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