SANTA CLARA — There was a different Santa Claus in Santa Clara – one with a dark sidekick. 

Santa Claus consults with young visitors as Schmutzli looks on at the third annual Samichlaus Abend outside Santa Clara Town Hall, Santa Clara, Utah, Dec. 6, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

That’s because they do Christmas a little differently in Santa Clara — one with a Swiss flavor. And it was on full display at the city’s third annual Samichlaus Abend – translated from German Swiss as “Santa Night” – and tree lighting Wednesday at the park across the street from Santa Clara Town Hall. 

The lighted tree was not a traditional fir but a pecan tree. A dark and foreboding figure looking more like Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghost of Christmas future than an elf oversaw visits to Santa.

Known as Schmutzli in the Swiss Christmas tradition, the dark hooded figure acts as a kind of bouncer for Santa, making sure kids who are on the naughty list don’t gain access to treats from the Swiss St. Nick, known as Samichlaus. 

Schmutzli normally doesn’t talk, but St. George News managed to pry two words from the hooded figure. 

“Be good,” he said through a foreboding white smile that glistened. 

Apparently, there weren’t any naughty kids at the Santa Clara event, as each was provided with a traditional Swiss gift from Schmutzli.

That didn’t stop a crying child or two from recoiling from the scary Schmutzli. But not Clara Reed, who just celebrated her 8th birthday.

“I’m not scared,” she said.

But her 4-year-old little brother Milo then chimed in, saying, “I’m still scared. The people who had the mask on? This scared me.”

A pecan tree across from Santa Clara Town Hall is lit up as part of the third annual Samichlaus Abend, Santa Clara, Utah, Dec. 6, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Nonetheless, and perhaps with the help of his not-so-scared older sister, Milo said he still managed to let Santa know what he wanted for Christmas.

“A new Spider-Man suit because mine was short,” he said. “Mine was short because I got bigger.”

For mother Chalyn Reed, it was just a chance to give her kids a taste of her Swiss roots. 

“We’re Swiss,”  Reed said of her family, no relation to the author of this story. “We’re just here doing the traditional stuff.”

Along with Samichlaus and Schmutzli, there were also free Swiss pastries and hot cocoa, though St. George News was unable to confirm whether the beverage was Swiss Miss. 

This was the third version of Santa Clara’s Samichlaus Abend that was started by Santa Clara City Council member Leina Mathis and others as a way for the city to have its own tree lighting ceremony, even if the tree being lit wasn’t the traditional fir or evergreen but a pecan tree in the Town Hall park.

Angel Gradilla helped wrap the tree in thousands of lights.

Natalie Campbell, Miss Santa Clara, hands out pastries at the third annual Samichlaus Abend outside Santa Clara Town Hall, Santa Clara, Utah, Dec. 6, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“It’s honestly kind of a pain because we had to bring buckets and go all the way up there,” Gradilla said. 

But as Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg counted down and the darkness turned into glistening light shining on the eyes of the children below, Gradilla, who brought his younger 13-year-old brother and other young family members to the event, he put the pain aside. 

“It’s worth it,” Gradilla said. “I mean, look at the joy to all these kids.”

Big advent calendar

Along with the Samichlaus Abend, Santa Clara has another Swiss holiday tradition that lasts throughout the month: The Adventsfenster.

Translated as “advent windows,” it’s a kind of advent calendar. Except in this case, the entire city becomes on big advent calendar. 

A window to a home participating in Santa Clara’s Adventsfenster advent calendar holiday event, Santa Clara, Utah, Dec. 5, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Adopting a tradition from Switzerland, 24 different addresses, consisting mostly of residences, are decorating a single window with a Christmas display. That display is kept behind a curtain until it is revealed each night at 7 p.m. from Dec. 1 until Christmas Eve. 

A list of each address and the date it is revealed can be found here. Once displayed, it will remain so through the holiday.

One such display, revealed on Dec. 3, can be found at Lisa Frei’s home on Covey Lane. Inside is a lamb skiing down a mountain of cotton as well as elves, mice and unicorns galavanting around towers of candy. A nearby placard challenges visitors to find all of the hidden characters. 

The Adventsfenster continues through the end of the month. 

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