Everyone loves holidays. They bring joy to our homes and our lives. Each country celebrates its holidays in their way. People from Switzerland are no exception. Major holidays in Switzerland are Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s Day.
However, the customs in Switzerland are a bit different.
Especially when compared to the Americans. The Christkind brings the presents to children. The cuckoo brings the Easter eggs. There is a holiday dedicated to onions, and yodeling.
During Christmas make sure to eat cookies. Every family has its recipe, and they are all delicious.
Renting a limo can make the holidays in Switzerland even more magical. Or take a walk, and be a part of a wild carnival parade!
In this article you will read about:
How many holidays does Switzerland have?
Even though some Swiss holidays are celebrated across the entire country, some holidays are celebrated only in specific cantons and areas around Switzerland. This means that not all cantons across the country celebrate the same national public holidays.
Most holidays in Switzerland are religious and thus they are usually celebrated in the Catholic cantons. National holidays are highly respected – with almost everything closed, from shops to public institutions.
Having this in mind, we cannot say the exact number of holidays in Switzerland since the number of holidays can vary from region to region, from canton to canton.
Therefore, we will mention those that are celebrated in most parts of the country and those that stand out in their authenticity – followed by festivals and carnivals.
Public Holidays in Switzerland
One of the most important holidays in Switzerland is the Swiss National Day, regarded as the only official federal holiday and it is celebrated on 1 August.
If a Swiss national holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, workers have the opportunity to create a long weekend and take either Monday or Friday off.
Bank holidays in Switzerland are usually marked on their calendar date, still, some cantons and businesses may provide a day off if the Swiss public holiday falls on a weekend.
It is important to know that national holidays in Switzerland are taken very seriously – almost all shops and public institutions are closed.
The Swiss have holidays that are followed by festivals. That is a perfect way to travel throughout the country and explore Swiss traditions and culture. To portray this in the best way, later, we will mention the Swiss carnivals and how they are celebrated.
Before that, let’s check the list of the holidays that are celebrated nationally throughout entire Switzerland:
1. Christmas in Switzerland
One of the biggest holidays in Switzerland is Christmas. People use four different languages in this country. Those are German, French, Italian, and Romansh.
Speakers of these four languages have their customs regarding it. The biggest surprise may be that Santa Claus does not have a huge role in the celebrations.
“Christkind” in German, or “Le petit Jѐsus” in French plays the role of the Santa.
The Christ-child, translated into English, represents little Jesus. Some stories connect it with the angel carrying the star which signified the birth of Christ at Bethlehem.
It is a beautiful, radiant being that resembles an angel. It has wings and wears white clothes. A sparkling crown and a magic wand complete the look of the adored figure.
No one knows how he looks since the veil covers its face. The tinkling of the silver bells announces his arrival.
The story says that the Little Christ brings the tree and the gifts on Christmas Eve, not the Santa.
For this reason, parents decorate the tree after children go to bed on Christmas Eve.
When the children are bigger, they help with decorating. This is a special time for families during holidays in Switzerland. Many people place a creche at the foot of the decorated tree. The ceramic or wooden figures reenact the scene when Christ was born.
An increasing number of families choose to decorate the tree at the beginning of December.
This month is also the “Advent” waiting period. Advent is a period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas.
In some countries, it is a period from the first of December to Christmas Day.
Advent calendars and crowns are popular during this time of the year. A lot of people love to go to Christmas markets. They buy different types of food and Christmas decorations. To keep warm, they enjoy a cup of mulled wine.
In 2021, Christmas falls on a Saturday, and some businesses will probably decide to follow Saturday opening hours.
On four Sundays during Advent season most shops in the center of Zurich are opened from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Most schools have a Christmas break that lasts from 1.5 to 2.5 weeks between 22 December and 6 January.
2. New Year’s Day in Switzerland
New Year’s holiday in Switzerland is not just popping corks. Instead, it has a long tradition that varies from region to region.
If you visit one of the towns and villages, you will be a part of a long and noisy parade with costumes, masks, drums, beaming bells, and cracking whips.
Although January the second is a holiday in the city of Zurich, most shops will be open until 6 p.m. for the first shopping tour of the upcoming year. The working time will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On the ground of some old Swiss beliefs, New Year’s holiday means casting off all the bad spirits and demons. Besides that, it is celebrated differently and we will mention just some of the most authentic traditions taking place on various grounds. Those are:
- Cathedral lighting in Lausanne
- A large bonfire in Hallwil
- Forging a horseshoe in Möhlin
Cathedral lighting in Lausanne
On every Saint-Sylvestre since 1904, people of Lausanne gather in front of the Esplanade de la Cathédrale to perform the well-known ritual. When midnight comes, the fire starts to raise from the three floors of the beautiful bell tower.
This luminous moment signifies that the time has come to celebrate and toast with champagne and mulled wine. You will enjoy the firework that literally looks like it is burning down the cathedral!
A large bonfire in Hallwil
It is a long-lasting tradition to light a giant bonfire on the top of the Bruderhübel hill in Hallwil. On this spot, the locals gather to ring at the midnight.
Besides lighting a big bonfire a group of eight men (Drescher) perform a specific ritual that starts at about 11:50 p.m. They begin to beat into a wooden board that is placed right next to the fire.
The beating has the aim to banish all the bad spirits so that people can welcome the New Year purified and happy. They will stop the movements when midnight closes but continue harder as the New Year arrives.
Forging a horseshoe in Möhlin
This tradition lasts for more than sixty years and it is highly symbolic. The action starts in the old year and ends with the arrival of the New Year.
At the Schmittenbrücke bridge in Möhlin, the process begins at 11:53 p.m. sharp. The horse is hammered for the first time and the process is followed by another heating session. The new horseshoe must be completed by 0:03 a.m.
The locals insisted on repeating the ritual every year even though it was just an impulsive thought and a spur idea back in 1956. Now it is a part of a long tradition that is very interesting to watch and participate in.
3. The Patron Saint’s Day
Even though Santa Claus does not play a role during Christmas in Switzerland he appears on December 6. This date is Patron Saint’s Day.
So, Santa is still there during holidays in Switzerland, just on a different day.
In the German-speaking part of the country, his name is “Samichlaus”. He visits homes and schools. Kids should learn a poem and promise that they will be even better next year.
Samichlaus brings sweets, fruits, and nuts to children who behave well. For those who are a bit naughty, he brings advice on how to behave better.
A donkey and an assistant “Schmutzli” dressed in black keep him company. Children believe that they live in a cottage in the snowy mountains.
4. Easter in Switzerland
Easter is the happiest day in the life of a Christian. It is a day when Christ resurrected after being dead for three days in his tomb.
Easter is one of the most important holidays in Switzerland too.
This joy-filled holiday marks the beginning of spring. People celebrate Easter in Switzerland in their unique way.
The bunny does not bring Easter eggs in this country. A cuckoo plays this role. Children know that Easter is near when they can see the Easter eggs, chocolate cuckoos, and special Easter cakes in shop windows.
What customs are related to Easter in Switzerland?
There are various customs related to Easter in Switzerland.
It can be surprising to know that you cannot see chocolate eggs everywhere.
People share wine, bread, and hard-boiled eggs among themselves. Hard-boiled eggs can also be a part of some games or customs.
Some of the customs and traditions have died out. Some have changed or reinvented, while others are becoming popular again.
The most interesting is the Easter egg hunt. It takes place on Easter Sunday. After children wake up, they search the house and the yard for the Easter eggs.
The winner is the one who has collected the most eggs. Everyone gets to keep the eggs and the winner gets an additional gift. Sugar eggs, chocolate eggs, marzipan rabbits, and little chocolates are the prize for the best.
One very interesting and unusual custom is specific to western Switzerland.
It takes place every Good Friday in Romont. Romont is a small town in the Swiss canton of Fribourg. The weeping women dressed all in black mourn the death of Christ. They recall the women of Jerusalem who accompanied Christ on the day of his crucifixion in Golgotha. Out of all customs regarding holidays in Switzerland, this one is the eeriest.
The weeping women carry different objects symbolizing the Passion of Christ on red cushions. The symbols are the hammer, nails, crown of thorns, and a whip.
One of the women carries a white cloth which symbolizes the handkerchief that St. Veronica used to wipe Christ’s brow as he carried the cross.
The cloth has a picture of Christ’s face on it.
This tradition almost died out in the 1970s, but it has made a comeback. It is very popular, not only with the residents of Romont but also with the rest of the world.
5. The Ascension Day
The Ascension Day is a Christian holiday in Switzerland that is celebrated on the 40th day of Easter. According to Christian belief, 39 days after Easter Sunday Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven.
Why do people celebrate Ascension day in Switzerland?
Ascension Day is a public holiday and it is a day off for most businesses and schools. According to some superstition, it is even bad luck to work of this day. The holiday is also known as The Ascension Thursday (or Holy Thursday) and The Feast of the Ascension.
This holiday celebrates Jesus’s union with the apostles and the expansion of his disciples that together preached the word of God. It is initially celebrated by Anglican Christians and Catholics and in line with the Western Christianity methods that calculate the dates of Easter (the earliest date for the Ascension Day is April 30, and the latest is June 3).
Ascension Day Holiday in Switzerland is celebrated in all the 26 Cantons. The old English tradition says that the weather should be warm on this day otherwise the harvest will be poor and the livestock will suffer from diseases.
The church service includes putting out of the Easter candle and long pubic procession with a torch lit. The biggest attraction on this holiday is the Auffahrt procession in Beromunster which dates back to 1509, but it became famous in 1780 as a horse-centered celebration.
The tradition includes the maneuver of about 150 riders dressed in traditional costumes, galloping in front of many spectators. The parade flows with flags and music through the stunning village, and with the company of pious pilgrims, the procession expands to a large number. The whole crowd enjoys various programs that keep the festive spirit until the four-day weekend.
The Ascension Day symbolizes Christ’s entry into heaven, and in some traditions, it symbolizes chasing the devil on the streets and baptizing it in a pond or burning it in a sculpture (the representation of the Messiah’s triumph over the devil when he unlocked the realm of heaven to all believers).
6. Swiss National Day
As we mentioned before – every year on 1 August, Switzerland celebrates one of the most important national holidays: the establishment of the Swiss Confederation in 1291.
Each canton provides a day of federal union followed by public speeches, concerts, and firework displays.
Thousands of people come to participate in festivities that take place in large cities – Zurich, Geneva, Bern, Basel, and Lugano. The main events are being held at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen, and in the Ruetli Meadows – on the shores of Lake Lucerne.
Swiss National Day traditions
If you want to blend in with the locals during this big event, you should do the following and instantly become a part of the most celebrated holiday in Switzerland:
- Wave the flags! The Swiss cover their home with flags, so take part in local patriotism and contribute by proudly waving those flags!
- Spark your day with a farmer’s breakfast! The celebration can be long, so start with a nice and healthy breakfast in one of the best local and organic places. You can order traditional food such as rösti, or you can eat eggs, smoked sausage, and cheese, and all that followed by a domestic cider.
- Try traditional wrestling! Have you ever heard of Schwing? Well, if you are attending the Swiss National Day you will hear a lot about it! Traditional wrestling has been present for centuries, but in modern times it has become extracted from rural communities and it became more popular and a part of the mainstream.
- Watch the fireworks! When you think you had enough after waving the flags and drinking the cider all day, the best is yet to come – the magnificent display of fireworks! It can vary from region to region, but it is definitely the main attraction of this big holiday in Switzerland. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy while watching fireworks exploding above a magical moonlit lake?
- Have a blast! The Swiss aren’t known worldwide for having a lot of fun, but this is an exception when they enjoy sincerely each moment of this special day. Expect to become a part of a large procession that celebrates with awesome vibes, and why not make the most of it? Interact, mingle, and expand the number of your Swiss friends. You will enjoy it deeply.
Holidays that only exist in Switzerland
People in Switzerland celebrate numerous holidays that many around the world honor. Christmas and Easter are some of them.
However, some holidays are specific to the country. You will read about two unique holidays in Switzerland.
Onion market in Bern
One very interesting holiday in Switzerland is a festival that takes place in the market. It is a traditional folk festival happening on the fourth Monday of every November.
It celebrates onions. You can admire and buy braided onion braids, garlands, and figures. Onions of all sizes and colors are on a display at the stalls ready for the buyers.
Not only are the onions ready for sale. Different specialties with onions as ingredients are available. Onion tart, onion soup, pizza, or sausage with onions are ready for hungry shoppers.
The Zibelemärit is the traditional name of the market. Many legends surround its origins. One says that in the 15th century, Zibermärit was a part of the Martini Market. Everything, except onions, was sold out. This is the reason why a separate market for selling onions took place.
The other story regarding this holiday in Switzerland is a story of friendship. It is when in 1405 Bern had a huge fire. Many people died, around 100, and 650 wooden houses burned down. People of Freiburg hurried to help. To show their appreciation Bernese allowed the people of Freiburg to sell their onions in Bern every autumn.
Bachläger Alpine pastures in Grindelwald fill up with the sounds of yodeling at the beginning of July. As long as it doesn’t rain the yodeling competition takes place.
This is a very special holiday in Switzerland. During this traditional event, the most seasoned yodelers try to out-yodel each other. It is a perfect way to mark the beginning of the summer in the Alps.
February is the time of the year when the carnival sensations start to shake the entire country. During the carnival, the Swiss are completely allowed to forget about good manners, free their spirit, and let their hair down.
The carnival season is also known as Fasnacht – a time of chaotic fun! Traditions related to the carnival vary greatly: from an old Germanic sacrificial practice, a festival to cast away bad spirits, a celebration to mark the end of the summer, to a time to purge before the penitential period of Lent.
According to the tradition, carnival season starts on Dirty Thursday – the Thursday before Lent. Some major cities step away from tradition and celebrate in May. For example, Fasnacht Basel is organized the week after Ash Wednesday. Typically, Lent begins 40 days before Easter, so the dates may vary each year.
In this part of the text we will be talking about carnivals in the following cities:
Fasnacht Basel represents the biggest and the most famous carnival in Switzerland. As we mentioned before, it doesn’t follow the tradition – it is happening on Monday that follows Ash Wednesday, linking three days of fun.
People wear costumes that entirely hide their identities. Bands that play piccolos and drums (members of cliques) parade in themed costumes that enhance the festivity vibes.
The carnival starts at 4 a.m. with a predawn ritual (Morgenstreich) when the lights of Basel’s Old Town are turned off. Then the cliques come to spread harmonious melodies and to usher the procession with lanterns into the town’s bars. The bars are opened for the entire time – 72 hours of Basel Fasnacht.
On Tuesday evening, classical Swiss bands like Guggenmusik return and play under the fresh air, and sometimes they even play serenades to spectators. The main parade of Basel Fasnacht takes place on Tuesday and only families and children are the members.
One of the best lantern festivals in the world is happening here – starting from Monday evening until Wednesday morning when tangled lanterns are displayed at the Münsterplatz for both locals and tourists.
Fasnacht Zurich is a combo of extravagant costumes, pompous shows, and a lot of glitters.
On Friday, the Ship of Fools arrives at the city to commence one of the most peculiar boat tours of the year.
Guggenmusik bands play in Münsterhof and Hirschenplatz throughout the entire weekend and amuse the audience.
The highlight of the festival is a large Valentine’s parade that keeps getting bigger each year.
Fasnacht Bern represents the third largest carnival in Switzerland. It begins on Thursday when the loud drums of Ychüblete awake the bear in the Prison Tower in Bern’s Old Town from its deep winter sleep.
The bear is freed and masked people rush down the streets and hurl into restaurants and bars to hide and stay safe.
Guggenmusik cliques play the whole 3 days, and they are followed by other big events, such as the circus on Thursday, Kinder Carnival on Friday, numerous concerts and theatre shows on Saturday, and much more.
Lucerne’s festivity starts with a Morgenwacht – a loud bang before downing at 5 a.m. on Thursday, manifested in a uniform gun salute from a bunch of brass bands.
People wear outlandish costumes and parade with cheerful songs played in a classic out-of-tune manner.
The parade lasts from Thursday to Monday and it attracts tens of thousands of participants. However, the end of Lucerne’s Fasnacht is on Tuesday with the Monstercorso – the luminous procession that echoes with traditional music.
Fasnacht Solothurn breaks the tradition and it turns into Honolulu during the festival. Somebody once said that Hawaii’s capital city lies on the other side of the world, in the beautiful place of Solothurn.
Just like in Lucerne, Solothurn’s carnival starts at 5 a.m. on Thursday with a loud bang from brass bands. The procession of light, with people wearing white nightcaps and shirts, marches throughout the city until the afternoon. Then, the official start of the carnival is being proclaimed by the Fools’ Guild.
Theatre shows portray sociopolitical parodies on Sunday and Tuesday afternoons.
The carnival ends on the evening of Ash Wednesday in a very specific way: the city’s carousers burn the Solothurn’s Böögg, or straw man, to mark the end of Fasnacht in Solothurn.
Switzerland is a melting pot of four different languages. The languages and their people have unique customs and traditions. Among Switzerland holidays and celebrations, the two biggest are Christmas and Easter.
The same is in other parts of the world where the major religion is Christianity. In addition, people in this country honor their traditions.
Still, the Swiss celebrate their roots and still keep some of the customs alive through numerous carnivals. We chose to talk about the onion market in Bern and yodeling day in Grindelwald. But they are only a speck.
There are many more customs and traditions in this small but beautiful country. As we saw, the vividness of carnivals speaks volumes about the Swiss mentality, creativity, and passion. Attend just one of them, and you will have a lot of fun!