Gian Ehrenzeller, photographer for epa’s partner agency Keystone, writes about photographing the “Silvesterchlaeuse” tradition in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden.
As a result of resistance towards the calendar reform, people in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden still celebrate New Year’s Eve not only on December 31, but also on January 13. This holiday is known as „Alter Silvester“, old New Year’s Eve. Men celebrate by dressing up as New Year’s Clauses. They wear costumes, hats, and bells and walk from house to house to sing and bring their best wishes.
I always felt that traditions are hard to photograph. Thousands of pictures have already been taken and seen.
So I’d say I was somewhat lucky when I photographed the „Silvesterchlaeuse“ (New Year’s Clauses) in January 2016, the weather was pretty bad.
Instead of hitting the main tourist spot, where you can be sure to see Clauses – but also lots of tourists – I managed to find a group of Clauses who were willing to take me on their tour. Don’t get me wrong here, this New Year’s tradition is not kept alive for the tourists. It rather seems to be carried by the people. You’ll even see groups of kids dressed up as New Year’s Clauses, wandering the back-country on their own.
As I arrived at the farmer’s house in the village of Waldstatt, the Clauses still sat at breakfast. The farmer’s wife offered them wine, they wished each other a Happy New Year, and then started yodeling. The farmer who invited them used to follow the tradition himself when he was younger, and joined them in their song. It is a singing without words, and frankly, it always gives me shivers.
They repeated their singing outside, forming a circle, wearing their hats and bells. Each of the hats is an artwork which each Clause crafted himself, picturing aspects of rural life. After wishing the farmer and his wife a Happy New Year, they got something more to drink, and moved on.
At this point, heavy wind and some snowfall picked up. I was somewhat worried about the men as they made their way through snow covered meadows. They had to hold on to their hats, each weighing about four kilograms, while the costume overall weighs about 20 to 30 kilograms. But this moment was actually the one where I got the pictures I was hoping for.
Sound sample of jodeling Silvesterchlaeuse: