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Stories, legends and myths are alive in the magical valley of Lötschental. Tschäggättä is probably the oddest Swiss carnival that you ever will experience. When night falls, the oversized masked figures rampage through streets in various villages between the Catholic holiday of Candlemass and Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).
They are not organized in groups and appear unexpectedly as they please. The spectacular and frightening masques chase children and spectators alike, and tossing soot at unsuspecting victims.
There's no written account of the origins of this unique local custom. The first official mention of the Tschäggättä occurs in a church chronicle dating back to the second half of the 19th century. Apparently, the scary figures wreaked havoc and had grown more violent each year, and so the parish priest of Kippel wanted to see an end to this unchristian behaviour, or else, they would have to pay the exorbitantly high fine of 50 cents.
The masques are handmade of Arvenholz - a local pine-related conifer easy to work with - by local carvers. They then are painted and adorned with all kinds of material that give them an even wilder appearance: large cow teeth and horns, wacky hairdos of long goat hair - the weirder the better. The cushioned shoulders are covered by goat and sheep skin, and pants made of burlap potato sacks are held together with a large belt from which a cowbell dangles. Often, feet are wrapped in coarse fabric so masques can't be tracked down by their shoe soles. Colourful mittens knitted of "Triäm", leftover yarn from weaving, are especially helpful in the custom of soot throwing.
Until about the 1940s, only young men and bachelors had the right to wear the Tschäggättä, though customs changed and nowadays, boys, girls, women and men keep the tradition alive.
The highlights of this annual spectacle are the Thursday Tschäggättä procession followed by the carnival on Saturday before Ash Wednesday.
And don't forget to sample "Chiächlini" served by "Chiächlihäxä" (cake witches).
Various fringe events take place on Saturday: The best Tschäggättä will be awarded with a price in the gym of Wiler at 5pm; Carnival ball in Wiler starting at 8.30pm; Carnival bands play on Lauchernalp, starting at 11am.
Should you happen to be in Wiler outside the carnival season, visit Agnes Rieder's mask cellar, open year-round. She's a mask carver and displays Europe's largest mask collection. Give her a buzz (027 - 939 1355) or email to make an appointment.
If you holiday in the Lötschental, it can happen that you see the Tschäggättä rooming through the village street at nightfall during February and beginning of March.
Images and more Info: Lötschental Tourism
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