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Bernese Oberland drives out unwelcome spirits

The winter sun creeps over the mountains above Kandersteg.

(Kandersteg Tourism)

People in the town of Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland take to the streets on December 25 dressed in strange costumes. But none are dressed as Santa Claus or any of his Christmas brethren.

The characters are part of a pagan ritual - repeated on January 1 - called "Pelzmartiga" - and are meant to drive away evil spirits.

Some of the figures wear fur (pelz = fur) and frightening masks, and wander through Kandersteg rattling chains and ringing bells. There are wild beasts, "rag men" and even a "child eater".

They also act as reminders of the natural dangers, disease and poverty which once plagued the town.

It's not hard to imagine evil spirits lying in wait in the deep cut valleys of the Bernese Oberland, where the winter sun rarely climbs over the mountain tops to bring light to places like Kandersteg.

There are events similar to Pelzmartiga, called "Tricheln", held between Christmas and New Year in the towns and villages at the eastern end of Lake Brienz. Town folk use bells and drums to scare away the forces of darkness.

The biggest such event is called "Uebersitz" and it takes place on the last working day of the year (December 29). People from the entire area bring their noisemakers to Meiringen where they march through the streets to chase away any demons still lurking about.

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