My Story of Swiss Santa and His Scary Helper Schmutzli
Last week I was downtown and saw children waiting in line to have their pictures taken on Santa’s lap. That made me realize just how different my own experience with Santa was.
In Switzerland, Santa arrives on December 6th, St. Nicolas Day. He doesn’t fly in from the North Pole, pulled by magical reindeer. He walks in from the Black Forest with an old donkey and his helper Schmutzli.
Swiss Santa reminds me a lot of God from the old testament; always watching, always judging. His helper Schmutzli reminds me of the Grim Reaper, dressed in a black cloak, hiding his face under a big hood.
In one hand, Schmutzli carries a burlap sack, filled with mandarins, nuts and ginger bread. In the other hand he holds at birchwood broom.
If children were nice throughout the year, Santa gives them the goodies from his helper’s bag. But if they were naughty he puts the children in his helper’s burlap sack, abducts them and brings them back to the Black Forest where they have to stay at his work camp until they are ready to become functional members of society again.
My parents did an excellent job telling me when Santa was watching, and it didn’t take me very long to realize that I had so many strikes against me that I was going to the Black Forest for a long time.
I was so scared of being abducted by Santa that I went to see my grandfather. I said:” Grandpa, if you want to have a granddaughter next year, you have to help me.” My grandfather said: ”I have just the thing for you!” he walked over to his big wooden desk, opened up the top drawer, pulled out a tiny Swiss Army knife, gave it to me and said: ”Take this! When Santa puts you in his bag, use it to cut your way out!”
This was not the answer I was hoping for, but it was an answer and I took the knife.
Over the next few weeks I practiced cutting through all the thick materials I could find. I cut through the bottom of my mother’s curtains, I cut through the thickest parts of my pants, and I cut through all the rugs and carpets that crossed my path. After a few weeks of practicing I felt that I had the knife skills to cut my way out of a burlap sack.
One day, my dad sat my brother and me down and said: ”Children, it’s time to start memorizing some poems.” He said: ”For every poem you recite to Santa, he will undo one strike against you.”
While my brother diligently learned poem after poem, I knew that there weren’t enough poems in the world to make up for all the strikes I had against myself. So, instead of learning poems, I held on to my knife because my life now depended on it.
December 6th arrived and my parents, thinking they were particularly good parents, hired our neighbors to dress up like Santa and his helper.
The doorbell rang and I got so scared that I ran into the furthest corner of the living room, hiding behind the piano.
I heard footsteps, then I saw big black boots in front of me, a red robe, a white beard and a white gloved hand guiding me into the living room.
I was in no condition to be addressed by Santa, so he started with my brave little brother. Santa sat my brother down across from him, opened up his big black leather-bound book and said:”You have been a good boy. You always did your homework, you always brushed your teeth and you always went to bed on time. There was that one time when you talked back to your mother, let’s see if you have a poem to recite to me?”
My brother stood up and said: ”Santi Niggi Näggi, hinter em Ove stäcki, gimer Nuss und Bire, denn kummi hinde füre”.
Santa said: ”Very well!”
And my brother said: ”But wait, there is more!” and he went on and on and on, reciting poem after poem after poem to make sure he didn’t have to go to the black forest.
Santa said: ”Wonderful my child” then reached into his helper’s bag and gave him lots of mandarins, nuts, gingerbread, pears and even some chocolate.
That moment I realized that the bag was now empty and there was plenty of room in it for me.
The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed with my mom sitting next to me saying: ”Honey, what happened last night?”
Who knows? Was I in fact successful at cutting my way out of the burlap sack? Did that mean that I already had my first strike against me towards next year?
I am happy to announce that over the last 4 decades, Swiss Santa has changed. Today, children across Switzerland are now too, lining up to have their pictures taken on Santa’s lap.
Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year!