Mid-Winter Customs in Hallwil (AG)


Last Sunday in November or first Sunday in December: whip-cracking contest; Second Thursday in December: Chlausjage; December 24, 25: Visit of the Christmas child; December 31: Flailing of the threshing board; January 2: Masked mischief makers.

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The village of Hallwil, in Reformed Aargau, is the only one far and wide to maintain a complete cycle of winter customs, all taking place within one month. Such an effort naturally requires the initiative and involvement of many people.

The fun starts with the Chlauswettchlöpfe, or popular whip-cracking contest, on the last Sunday in November or first Sunday in December. Boys, youths, and young men are separated in three categories. The competition consists in cracking whips which are three to five yards long. Experienced judges evaluate the performance on the basis of strict criteria. The winner receives a pewter pitcher, a challenge trophy. Runners-up receive other gifts. The main attraction of the day is, of course, the joint performance of the approximately thirty participants.

As a next step, six boys, 13 or 14 years old, who know how to crack their whips, lead the Chlausjage (pursuit of St. Nicholas). On the second Thursday in December, they represent six traditional figures of mischievous and admonishing "spirits" who visit the homes in the village to distribute gifts to the children or to scold them, according to the merits of each child.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas, seven girls, the same age as the boys, act out an old custom restricted to the innermost circles of the village. A veiled Wienechtchind (Christmas child), clad in white, and six companions in rosecolored garments visit village families in the evening. The Wienechtchind greets everyone present with a silent handshake and distributes cookies to the children while the other girls sing a Christmas carol. Then they all depart as silently as they have arrived.

On New Year's Eve, close to midnight, the people of the village gather around a bonfire on the hill above. At ten minutes to twelve, eight men begin to flail a threshing board according to a precise rhythm. When midnight is only a breath away, they suddenly stop, only to resume the flailing with even greater zeal once the bells ringing in the new year have ceased. After a good quarter of an hour, the air is well cleansed, the spirits laid to rest.

Bärzelistag (January 2, Berthold's Day) completes the cycle. Fifteen unmarried adults form a masked group, with five each representing "the green", "the parched brown", and a camel with camel drivers. The green group symbolizes spring and life, the brown group winter and death. In the early afternoon, the masked figures run through the village, engaging in all kinds of mischief. They then extend their efforts to neighboring communities, before concluding their exuberant incursions with an evening meal together.

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