Geisslechlöpfe or the art of scaring winter away

Geisslechlöpfe is a custom celebrated in the city of Lucerne that gets everyone, well almost everyone, in the mood for Samichlaus season. This year the streets will resonate with the rhythmic sounds of whip cracking between 3 November and 8 December when the Geisslechlöpfer are allowed to perform.

Geisslechlöpfe originated as a Swiss pagan tradition to scare away the winter spirits and demons with the sound of cracking whips. The tradition gave way to a Christian context and now introduces Samichlaus, Saint Nicholas rather than Santa Claus, for the 6 December celebration of Saint Nicholas Day.

The whips known as ‘Geissle’ are wooden sticks with thick ropes tied to the ends which are braided into ever thinner strands and culminate in a ‘Zwick’. By swirling the sticks around and then suddenly stopping the motion it produces a sound not unlike that of a firecracker.

Geissle can be bought in various places: von Moos Sport + Hobby AG in Luzern and Reussbühl , Velociped in Kriens, Vonarburg in Luzern and it looks like they are also available in Landi.

For many, Geisslechlöpfe is a much loved tradition, however, it is not enjoyed or appreciated by all and therefore the participants are asked to observe the following points:

  • Be considerate of your neighbourhood. Take breaks and change location from time to time.
  • Avoid the vicinity of hospitals and old people’s homes. There is a particular need for quiet here.
  • Watch out for passers-by and avoid busy places for your own protection.
  • Adhere to midday and evening quiet times: 12 noon to 1 pm, 10 p.m. to 8 am, and on Sundays and public holidays from 2 pm onwards only.

Kriens will hold its procession on 8 December. The traditional ‘Wettchlöpfen’ between participating youths will take place at the village square from 3 pm and the ‘Schauschlöpfen’ procession, from 8 pm to 11 pm, with the ‘Schlusschlöpfen’ concluding the Samichlaus season.

There are classes on how to crack the whip correctly in Kriens & Littau, children need to be 8 or older; more information and registration is here.

The City of Lucerne thanks the Geisslechlöpfer for their understanding. With tolerance and mutual consideration, this beautiful custom will continue to occupy an important place in the course of the year.

It is worth noting that Küssnacht am Rigi has a different style of doing Geisslechlöpfe as shown here:

Header image from the ‘Geschichten aus dem Herzen der Schweiz, Luzern-Vierwaldstättersee’ blog.

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