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The Man in Red
In Switzerland, the tradition of Santa Claus is somewhat different from the norm. Though he looks the same as Santa Claus, the Samichlaus (originally Sankt Nikolaus) does not bring the presents at Christmas. Rather, he appears on the 6th of December. Children visit the Samichlaus (Of course, he's actually an ordinary man in red robes with a fake beard.) with their parents to be judged and recite poems that they've learned.

Enter Schmutzli
Samichlaus is accompanied by a helper called Schmutzli (from "schmutzig" - dirty). He is dressed in the same garments as the Samichlaus, but his are in black or brown. He wears a black beard and is smeared with dirt. The entire thing is set up as a kind of Good Cop Bad Cop routine. While the Samichlaus praises the kids who have been good, Schmutzli takes the naughty kids, puts them into his bag and carries them away. This makes for a practical way for parents to make their kids behave well: "Be good or Schmutzli will carry you off in his bag!"

Fear not for the Swiss children. Described above is the original form. Nowadays Schmutzli is purely ornamental or even left out completely. And anyway, the children always came back after being carried away.

The evening meal on the 6th traditionally consists of a man-shaped bread (called Grittibänz), oranges, mandarins, walnuts, peanuts (with the shells), Lebkuchen, butter and chocolates. A smart tradition, considering that the fruit contain vitamin C, which is important in winter. Though most people do it because it's fun.

See Father Christmas

An exceedingly strong lager beer, probably the strongest and densest in the world, brewed only on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, and released the following year around the same time. It is a dark red-brown color, almost black. Its viscosity is close to that of cough syrup.

The one time I tried Samichlaus (1994) it was after my brother ordered a case at the suggestion of a liquor store owner. I had to stop after three sips. Perhaps the weighty stuff didn't have an easy trip across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, it made for years of "Santy Claus Beer" jokes between my brother and me.

Zürich, Switzerland's Hürlimann Brewery once produced Samichlaus along with its low-alcohol Birell beer. Low sales caused Hürlimann close its Zürich brewery in 1997, and production of Samichlaus stopped. When word of Samichalus's demise leaked out via the beer news web site Breworld, it caused an uproar.

In 1999, Hürlimann granted the Austrian brewer Eggenberg the exclusive right to produce Samichlaus, and its fans were overjoyed to see its release in late 2000.

(Hürlimann was bought out by Carlsberg Brewery in 2000, but Eggenberg is still the sole manufacturer of Samichlaus).

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