Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Samichlaus Day (December 6)

December 6, 2009 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. Before I share with you the activities that took place on this day, I must give you a little history of December 6th in Switzerland

December 6 is known as "Samichlaus" day. St Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears not on Christmas Eve or Day, but on December 6. Samichlaus knocks on the door, frightened but excited kids answer. Samichlaus consults his big book of sins — co-authored by village parents — and does some light-hearted moralizing. Then he asks the kids to earn a little forgiveness by reciting a poem. After this and some assurances that they will reform, Samichlaus allows the children to reach deep into his bag for a smattering of tangerines, nuts, gingerbread, and other treats.

Samichlaus is accompanied by a character called Schmutzli on his visits to children, in particular in the central cantons. In contrast to the Patron Saint, Schmutzli usually is a rather dark and gloomy figure who carries a cane ("Rute") as well as the jute sack filled with presents. Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of December 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.

Another tradition that occurs on December 6th is the Samichlausschwimmen. The "Santa Claus Swim" is annual event for people that are not very bright....or feel no pain (obviously, this guy does not feel much pain).

This is not just any swim. Imagine for a second taking a hot shower....and then all of a sudden someone comes in turns the water to full blown cold....and then drop that temperature by about 20 degrees F....Lastly, imagine sitting in that water for 4 minutes.

Now, hopefully you have a better vision of the Samichlausschwimmen. Can you guess the temperature of the water. Lets just say it is measured in centimeters....not Celsius or Fahrenheit if you know what I mean :)

Water Temperature 7 C / 44 F

The Zurich Dive team getting suited up just in case one of the participants decide to give up. After seeing this group of people, I seriously considered throwing in the towel.

Never underestimate the stupidity of men in large numbers (more than 1). This is 4 of the 6 from our group who took the plunge.

L/R (Nathan, Brian, Jan & Zann)

Here is Zann and I right before the swim. Ladies...don't even think about it, Zann is a happily married man. I am especially greatful that Z successfully completed the swim, considering I was probably the one responsible for peer pressuring him to participate

This year, approximately 325 participated in the Samichlausschwimmen on the Limmat River from Pier 7 to the Frauenbad (Woman's Bath). The distance of the swim was approximately 110 meters (football field from goal post to goal post). Check out the divers in the boats and a couple of red buoys in the distance. I think those bouys connect nets so if anyone drowns, they don't have to search the entire river.

Well I was the first one from our group to take the plunge. If you listen carefully, I am the one screaming like a 6 year old girl.

Halfway through the swim, the pain starts to go away as the body is nearly completely numb. It is interesting how the group naturally drew closer together. Maybe subconsiously we were thinking that togetherness could warm the waters. Not a chance!!!

If you ever a chance to do this it is an incredible "Mind over Matter" experience that I highly recommend. Walking up these stairs was the best part of the entire Swim.

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