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Christmas begins with the crack of a whip

Strange and sometimes bizarre Christmas traditions are honoured across Switzerland

(Keystone)

The village of Hallwil in canton Aargau gets in the Christmas spirit in a rather unusual fashion. On November 26, it holds a whip-cracking contest, which signals the start of a series of strange events, including the pursuit of St Nicholas.

About three-dozen boys, youths and young men kick off the winter season by cracking their whips simultaneously in an effort to impress a panel of judges.

The winners in the different categories are awarded pewter pitchers. But the real prize is the honour of participating in the "Chlausjage" (pursuit of St Nicholas).

On December 14, some of the best whip-crackers dress up as mischievous and admonishing spirits who go from door-to-door handing out gifts to well-behaved children, and reprimanding those who have been naughty.

The girls of the village get their turn to participate on Christmas Eve when a ceremony is held to welcome the arrival of Jesus.

It's not until New Year's eve that the really bizarre celebrations start in Hallwil. The locals gather around a bonfire on a hill above the village, and at 10 minutes to midnight, a small number of men, in rhythm, start flailing threshing boards. The noise is meant to cleanse the air and make peace with the spirits.

The last ceremony to complete the cycle of Hallwil's winter tradition is held on January 2 - Berthold's Day. A group of unmarried men and women don masks representing spring (life) and winter (death) and run through the village trying to get into as much trouble as possible.

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