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Begging in the New Year

Silvesterkläuse marks the New Year according to the Julian calendar

(swiss-image)

In Appenzell, the New Year starts two weeks later than in the rest of the country. It's ushered in by groups of strangely dressed wanderers who traipse through the countryside, yodelling for money.

The 200-year-old custom practiced in parts of canton Appenzell-Ausserhoden is known as "Silvesterkläuse" and takes place on January 13 - New Year's Eve according to the old Julian calendar.

The tradition began as simple begging and has developed into a ritual which, for many locals, is the highlight of the year.

The groups of costumed men gather at dawn to begin their walk through the countryside. They all wear masks and folk costumes - some dress as women - and amble from farm to farm, announcing their approach with cowbells that hang heavily from their fronts and backs.

At each stop, the group of Silvesterkläuse lure people out of their houses with traditional yodelling, wish everyone a happy new year, and are offered drinks and money in return.

The yodellers don't only sing for their money; they also wear huge decorated bonnets sporting wooden figurines, which depict rural life in Appenzell. The bonnets are an entertainment in themselves, and hundreds of craftsman hours are put into making them.

The Appenzell Customs Museum (Museum für Appenzeller Brauchtum) in the town of Urnäsch houses a permanent collection of Silvesterkläuse masks and bonnets.

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