This is a translation in my words of the German article on this page. A friend sent me the pictures, unfortunately they are from postcards,as his camera didn’t work. He said that there were around 150 Silvesterchlaeuse and it was a very impressive sight.
A ‘Silvesterclaus’ is a masked person and part of on old custom in the village of Urnaesch in the Kanton of Appenzell Ausserhoden, which by tradition is a protestant Kanton, where as Appenzell Innerrhoden is a traditional Catholic Kanton.
The custom celebrates the end of the year, both on December 31 and January 13, the old Silvester according to the old julian calendar. The reason for this date is, that when in the 16th century Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar, 13 days were lost. Being a Protestant Kanton, the population did not recognize the new Catholic calendar and were not willing to give up the old julian calendar. So, stubbornly they still celebrate Silvester on the old date of January 13.
‘Silvesterchlaeuse’ go in small groups called ‘Schuppeln’ with big cow bells, masks and ornate headdresses yodeling wordless songs called ‘Zauren’ from house to house and wish the families blessings and happiness for the New Year and receive in return mulled wine and some money.
The masks represent both men and women, but because of the heavy weight of the bells and headdress only men participate in the custom. The whole outfit can weigh more than 30 kg (66 lbs).
There are 3 types of ‘Silvesterchlaeuse’:
- the pretty ones
- the ugly ones
- the pretty-ugly ones
The Ugly Ones
The ugly ones typically wear scary masks and their clothes are covered with leaves, straw and pine branches. The look has probably changed quite bit over the years. The look was most probably originally part of of a winter custom where with noise and hideous outfits all eerie and evil was chased away.
The Pretty-Ugly Ones
The pretty-ugly ones are the nature or forest ‘chlaeuse’. They don’t look as wild as the ugly ones. The clothing is carefully created with tree bark, pine cones and other natural materials. This type was first created in the 60er years of the 18th century.
The Pretty Ones
The pretty ones are know since the 19th century. They usually appear in groups of 6 or 7. The group consists of a ‘Vorrolli'(first figure), 4 or 5 ‘Schelli’ and a ‘Nachrolli’ (last figure).
A ‘Rolli’ is a figure that wears a traditional women’s costume and on the head a huge wheel-shaped headdress. On the upper part of the body they wear a leather harness with 13 round bells (Rolli).
A ‘Schelli’ is a figure that wears traditional men’s clothing and wide cantilevered very ornamental hats. On their breast and back they wear heavy bells which are tied together over the shoulders.
The headdress of both the ‘Rolli’ and the ‘Schelli’ is decorated with glass pearls, velvet and metal foils and other materials. In the niches of the headdress magnificent carvings represent scenes from the daily life.
During the festivities very young boys are initiated in this tradition. They wear a lighter version of the garments and bells but no masks. They look very charming according to my friend who was there.
This article on the Newly Swissed website has more pictures about this cool custom.