On the evening of December 24, men dressed in enveloping cloaks, the Nünichlingler, gather to celebrate a fascinating custom. As soon as the last stroke of the nine o’clock bell sounds, the procession sets off.
The men cross the village in an impressive line of three, led by the “Bäsemaa”. This striking figure wears a white beard and carries a long pole with a cloth covered in soot. The other men wear top hats up to four meters high – these oversized headdresses are the result of a playful competition between the participants to see who can wear the highest top hat. The top hats are made of blackened cardboard rolls that have to be supported by roof battens and fastened to the body with straps. The men walk in silence with large bells hanging around their necks, ringing in unison with their steps.
During the nocturnal procession through the village, the procession seems to exude a ghostly aura. About 45 minutes later, the procession ends abruptly and all the bells stop ringing. The participants either go to restaurants or take part in the midnight service.
The original purpose of this archaic custom of the Nünichlinger was to ward off evil spirits and protect the village from mischief.
This fascinating ritual is celebrated in the villages of Sissach, Ziefen and Arboldswil on Christmas Eve. The Nünichlingler Ziefen are included in the list of living traditions in Switzerland, which means that this custom is also on the UNESCO list, which protects and promotes intangible cultural heritage.
Video Nünichlingler Ziefen