Every year from November to February people in Bavaria celebrate various winter customs. These vary from region to region. Some pagan rituals can be traced back to 800 BC – like superstitious tales of winter spirits, witches and demons.
During Advent, figures known as “Klausen” roam the streets of Sonthofen in the Allgäu. They are wrapped in furs, wear great horns on their heads and carry rods in their hands. The people crack whips and ring bells. Their aim is to drive out demons by means of their terrifying appearance – the “Klausentreiben” is both a tradition and a fearsome spectacle.
The Rauhnächte (literally smoke nights) offer protection from evil spirits through the longest nights of the year. Between 21 December and 6 January, people burn incense in their homes and animal stalls. Particularly popular with visitors is the Waldkirchner Rauhnacht on 5 January. Various characters such as the “Hoawagoaß” or the “bluadige Thamerl” along with a brass band make the ritual a very special experience.
And the performances of the Aperschnalzer, or whipcrackers, in the Berchtesgaden Region have their own special appeal. Between Christmas and Lent they swing their Goaßln, or whips, and make a loud cracking noise. The custom is said to speed up the end of winter: the noise of the whips is meant to drive out the evil spirits of cold and darkness.
Christian customs: perpetual adoration and light festivals
In Franconian Switzerland, perpetual adoration is a firm tradition in the Catholic church. After prayers, people wait for darkness to fall then light hundreds of small log fires. The brass band plays and everyone sings old songs. There are four major light processions: in Oberailsfeld on 20 December, in Nankendorf on 31 December, in Obertrubach on 3 January and in Pottenstein on 6 January.
The Christian customs tend to be younger than the pagan ones. They are meant to bring good luck and ensure a blessed new year.