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Carnival? Halloween? St. Nicholas Eve!

Samtholz is a small patch, a so-called Bauerschaft, belonging to Clarholz, which in turn is part of the municipality of Herzebrock-Clarholz in the district of Gütersloh.

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Carnival? Halloween? St. Nicholas Eve!

Samtholz is a small patch, a so-called Bauerschaft, belonging to Clarholz, which in turn is part of the municipality of Herzebrock-Clarholz in the district of Gütersloh. There, on December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, there is a strange spectacle on the streets. Masked figures, who call themselves Sünnekläuse, perform wild hooting and shouting. Helene Bühlmeier can explain why the ancient custom is only maintained here. The 75-year-old is the chair of the Clarholz local history association and has lived in Samtholz for over 50 years.

WORLD: Ms. Bühlmeier, while Santa Claus comes into the house elsewhere, creepy figures are hanging around in velvet wood. What exactly is going on?

Helene Bühlmeier: The young people dress up this evening and put on terrifying masks. Some look really wild. And then they go from house to house, making a fuss with firecrackers, bells or whatever equipment. We call them Sünnekläuse. Sünne means "Sankt" in Low German, and "Kläuse" means Nicholas. In the past, there was always one in a group of Sünnekläuses with a Santa Claus masquerade. Except he didn't bring any presents.

WORLD: The Knecht Ruprecht as the evil companion of Nicholas is also known elsewhere. But the custom that hordes of such frightening figures parade through the streets on St. Nicholas Eve actually only exists in Alemannic or in the Alpine region. There they call it the Klausenhustle. Do you have an explanation as to how this tradition came to be in the East Westphalian Samtholz of all places?

Bühlmeier: No, nobody knows. It used to be all over Clarholz and maybe also in other places in the region. But the pastors in Clarholz, or pastors as we say in dialect, fought the Sünneläuse very much, so the story goes. To a certain extent, Santa Claus with the sweet things served to dissuade the children from this pagan activity. With us on the velvet wood, this has perhaps been the case because velvet wood is on the edge of claret wood. The people from here tended to go to the chapel in neighboring Möhler - so they were able to escape the influence of the Clarholz church. Now it's a bit like Asterix and Obelix: We're the last place where there are still Sünnekläuse. (She laughs)

WORLD: How big is your village of the indomitable?

Bühlmeier: About 60 houses, maybe 300 inhabitants. We have a hotel, a soccer field, a chapel. Because there aren't as many young people as there used to be, nowadays the older generations often go out as well. Some join the Sünnekläuse until they are 30.

WORLD: Go from house to house, be masked, make noise. What else does it include?

Bühlmeier: The smaller children used to have quite a bit of respect when the Sünnekläuse suddenly appeared in front of the door. Some of them had sacks on their backs from which dangled legs of homemade dolls. It looked like there were children in the sack. You don't see that so often anymore, but instead you see all kinds of scary masks that are also known from Halloween these days. When the Sünnekläuse stand in front of you, you try to guess who is under the mask.

WORLD: Halloween and the Sünnekläuse - that seems to be closely related.

Buehlmeier: That is correct. But the Sünnekläuse were already around here before anyone in Germany had ever heard of Halloween.

WORLD: There is trick or treating on Halloween. What is there with the Sünnekläuses made of velvet wood?

Bühlmeier: The whole thing has something of an initiation rite. For young people who go along for the first time at the age of 15 or 16, it's really exciting. Also because they often get schnapps from the people in front of whose doors they make a racket. Personally, I don't think the alcohol thing is so good, it has often gotten the upper hand in recent years. That's why I usually bake mares for the Sünnekläuse. I will do that again this year. Now, after the Corona years, when the young people were not allowed to go out, there will be a lot going on again at the Sünnekläuse. I learned that much from my grandchildren, who are 18 and 21 years old.

WORLD: Does the spectacle sometimes escalate? Did the police ever have to come?

Bühlmeier: I've never heard of that. But it can happen that neighbors get upset about the Sünnekläuse. However, a mocking song is then often sung to them, in which the name of the person who got upset appears. (She starts singing, "We have an idol...") But it never turned into a serious argument. We tolerate and accept each other here. Luckily, the neighborhood works very well for us.

WORLD: Is it only boys who move around?

Buehlmeier: No. Almost everyone here has been there when they were young. Also women. Sometimes two or three get together and say: We're going too! Exactly as it turns out. For example, I know from my mother-in-law that she always had a lot of fun with something like that.

WORLD: And you yourself? Have you used to travel after moving to Samtholz as a newlywed?

Buehlmeier: Hmm. (she laughs) I don't even remember. One time or another maybe? You forget some things.

Helene Bühlmeier Heimatverein Clarholz

The 75-year-old comes from the Münsterland and married more than 50 years ago in Clarholz in East Westphalia. She and her husband ran a farm there, specializing in the rearing of young hens. For years, Bühlmeier was chairwoman of the country women in the district of Gütersloh, and she is currently chairwoman of the Clarholz homeland association. He takes care of the historically significant Clarholz Monastery, which is well worth seeing and was founded in the 12th century by the Premonstratensian Order.

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