I thought you all might enjoy a description of the Christmas holiday traditions here in Switzerland. I found a good write-up here.
I'd like to bring your attention to the following in the link above:
The name Santa Claus comes from Sankt Nikolaus or Saint Nicolas (an early Christian bishop from Myra in present-day Turkey, the protector of children). This friendly figure does not play a role at Christmas, but appears on December 6, the Patron Saint's Day. In the Swiss German part, he is known as "Samichlaus" and he visits homes and schools, distributing sweets, fruits and nuts to well-behaved children and giving good advice to the less well-behaved. In Switzerland, he is not accompanied by a reindeer, but very often by a donkey and a dark-clad assistant. The children assume that they come from the snowy mountains.
Since arriving here we've heard a lot about Samichlaus and his assistant, Schmutzli. Schmutzli is an interesting character- we've heard some not so good things about him. Apparently, he carries a switch and sack. Children used to be told that Schmutzli would beat naughty children with the switch and carry them off in the sack to gobble them up in the woods. Now there is no more talk of beatings and kidnappings. I think the Swiss were on to something.
Anyway, Marion met Samichlaus, Schmutzli, and their donkey tonight in our town parade. And it was cooooooooooooooooold. I'll be back tomorrow with pictures!