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Christmas in Switzerland

Switzerland

Enjoying a white Christmas in an alpine village with a local family, we find the perfect tree, sample fondue, take a sleigh ride, eat a hearty feast, and sing carols. Rick’s son and a villager dress up as St. Nicholas ("Samichlaus") and his sidekick, Schmutzli, to bring a treat to every child.

Complete Video Script

High in Switzerland where the churches are small and villages huddle below towering peaks, the mighty Alps seem to shout the glory of God. Up here, Christmas fills a wintry wonderland with good cheer.

In these villages, traditions are strong… and warmth is a priority. Ovens are small, so wood is too.

My family has arrived for a Swiss Alps Christmas. Along with our kids — Andy and Jackie — my wife Anne has joined me here in the tiny village of Gimmelwald where we're having some fun with our friends, Olle and Maria and their kids.

Olle is taking us high above his village on a quest to find and cut the perfect Christmas tree.

Olle: What do you think about this tree here?
Andy: I’m not sure, shake it.
Olle: Well let’s shake it.
Jackie: …look at this!
Andy: Yeah Olle I think we can do better.

Olle: What do you think?
Andy: I like it a lot Olle.
Jackie: Yeah this is a good tree, I think we should cut it.

Still high above Gimmelwald, we're stopping in a hut for a little fondue.

Anne: We've got the tree.
Olle: Yes, it was quite a bit of work.
Rick: This feels just right in the winter doesn't it?
Maria: When it's cold outside, you know it's perfect. Figugegl means — Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune — it means in English that fondue is delicious and gives a good mood.
Rick: So if you have a party you know that it’s going to be…
Maria: Yes, everybody knows what figugel means…
Rick: If there's fondue, there will be a good ambiance.
All: Yes…

It's impossible not to linger in this cozy setting. Before we know it, the light outside begins to fade…

Rick: Here's to a happy Christmas.
All: Cheers!

As the sun sets, we've got our tree, and take an unforgettable ride home to Gimmelwald…

Back in the village, the kids take the tree home and we've been invited to enjoy another Christmas tradition.

While I grew up opening windows on a paper Advent calendars, up here the windows are real. Twenty-five homes decorate a window for each day of Advent. The sense of anticipation is the same as — day by day — Christmas approaches.

Advent is all about anticipation. And for the kids, much of that anticipation is about presents — rewards for being not naughty… but nice. And as we've seen, throughout Europe each culture seems to have its own version of Santa Claus — who serves parents by providing children incentives for good behavior…

Here in the Alps, it's Samichlaus — that's Swiss German for St. Nicolas — and his side-kick, Schmutzli. My son, Andy, is playing Samichlaus this year. Olle's son, Sven, is playing Schmutzli. And the donkey is playing… himself.

Each year, Gimmelwald's children anticipate a visit from this dynamic Christmas duo.

Samichlaus surprises the children and checks in his ledger to see if they've been doing their chores…

Samichlaus: Have you been feeding the cows lately?

… Then he might ask for a song or a poem…

Samichlaus: What would you like to sing?
Girl: (Sings)

And the performance is always followed by a treat from his big bag of gifts.

Samichlaus: Well, we hope you all have a Merry Christmas. See you next year.

Mission accomplished and it's time for dinner. Back home, grandma and grandpa have joined the gang as we settle into a classic Swiss Christmas Eve.

For this family, the holiday feast includes ham, scalloped potatoes with mountain cheese, and lovingly decorated gingerbread cookies.

After dinner, both our families gather in the living room… lighting the candles is a treat our children will always remember.

… Three generations come together as grandpa reads from the old family Bible.

And we all love a little caroling.

(All sing Christmas carols.)

The evening's capped off with the sharing of gifts.