HOLIDAY TRADITIONS IN SWITZERLAND
Foreshadowing the holiday season in Switzerland are two interesting November celebrations: St Martin’s Day observances which take place in several cantons and the well-known Zibbelemärit (onion market) in Bern. Sursee’s St Martin observance is unique. Its Swiss-German name “Gansabhauet” aptly describes the ritual which dates back to the middle ages. A dead goose is suspended from its neck and then blindfolded participants attempt to sever its head with a saber. The Zibelemärit is a significantly tamer event which takes place on the Bundesplatz Square in front of the House of Parliament. Each year farmers bring in 50 tons of onions & garlic which are sold along with Fall flowers, decorations, & souvenirs. The restaurants throughout the city serve succulent onion & cheese tarts as well as their local onion soups. As kids, my sister & I always looked forward to receive our Advent Calendars and we’d wait impatiently to open the first “window”. For us that was the real start of the holiday season. Another very positive sign was the delightful aroma of freshly baked Christmas cookies which emanated from every household. (Click here for our recipes) and of course the many Christmas Markets.
In the U.S., as we approach the end of the year, the ubiquitous Santa pops up everywhere and children expect him to bring them gifts and toys at Christmas. That’s not the case in Switzerland. Oh Yes! Santa brings them goodies if they have been good, but he does so on the eve of St Nicholas Day on December 6th. Swiss Germans call him “Samichlaus” and he is frequently accompanied by his helper “Schmutzli”. Since Swiss chimneys are too narrow for him to climb down, he knocks door to door to find out how children have behaved. With a good report they’ll receive a handful of treats (chocolates, nuts & fruits). Christmas presents on the other hand are placed under the Christmas tree on the 24th being brought by the “Christchindli”, the Christ child, not Santa. In French-speaking Switzerland Santa is called Père Noël. In Geneva the Fête de L’Escalade which takes place on December 12th is the big event. (You can check it out on our Spotlight on Geneva).
As is the case in the U.S., New Year celebrations take place throughout Switzerland. Some traditions dating back to the middle ages have pagan roots. One well known is the "Silvesterchlausen” which takes place on New Year’s Eve in the Canton of Appenzell. It’s a noisy but happy affair with “Silvesterchläuse” wandering from house to house wishing all a Happy & Prosperous New Year. Traditions are an important element of our heritage. They define who we are as a people. Although not Swiss, “Fiddler on the Roof “ expresses it well.
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