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On 31 December and 13 January, «Old New Year's Eve», the «Chläuse» make their way around the Appenzell hinterland. The origin and meaning of this ancient custom are the subject of speculation, because few written documents exist.

The Chläuse are probably based on a demon cult that apparently merged with vegetation and fertility cults near Urnäsch, situated in the valley below Schwägalp. Old New Year's Eve, January 13, is celebrated with particular fervour. In the last few years, this custom has also been revived in other Ausserrhoden communities. The date can be traced back to a conflict about the calendar that broke out in the 16th century, when Pope Gregory II improved the Julian calendar by moving New Year's Eve ahead thirteen days. The Protestants of Ausserrhoden and people of similar beliefs were not willing to acknowledge the Pope's ideas and refused to give up the old calendar.Even today, New Year's Eve is stubbornly celebrated on its old date. Although female figures are also portrayed, this is a purely male custom. Today there are three types of Chläuse: the «ugly» ones, the «beautiful» ones and the «woodland and nature» ones. The ugly characters often wear fearsome, demonic masks and rough garments made of foliage, straw or brush-wood. These figures that scare away uncanney and evil sprits with noise and their scary dress, are presumably the original figures of this winter custom. The woodland and nature Chläuse also wear costumes and masks made of natural materials, but do not appear as wild or primitive. Masks, hats and coats are transformed with great care into decorative marvels of such natural materials as bark and pine seeds. This type of Chläuse was created by a group from Urnäsch less than two centuries ago. The beautiful Chläuse have existed since the beginning of the 19th century. Today, they mostly appear in groups of six: the leader with round bells (Rolli), four with cowbells (Schelli) and another Rolli bringing up the rear. A «Rolli» wears a type of women's costume with a large wheel-shaped bonnet on his head. On his torso, he wears a leather strap with thirteen round bells, so called «Rollen». Those with cowbells wear male costumes and wide-brimmed, richly decorated hats. On their chests and backs they wear bells attached to straps across both shoulders. The head-dresses of both the «Rolli» and the «Schelli» are decorated with scenes depicting country life, placed in the niches of the bonnets and on the flat hats. Ringing their bells and yoddeling, the Chläuse wish everyone happiness and prosperity for the New Year and receive Glühwein and money in return.


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Urnäsch

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