Switzerland, a country known for its picturesque landscapes and rich cultural diversity, celebrates a wide range of holidays and public holidays that reflect its unique customs and traditions.
In this article, we’ll delve into the five most important holidays in Switzerland, their dates for 2023 and 2024, and all the essential information that can be valuable to tourists.
You will read about:
- Public holidays in Switzerland
- Holidays that only exist in Switzerland
How many holidays does Switzerland have?
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.
National (Public) Holidays in Switzerland
First of all, we must say that every national holiday in Switzerland is also a public holiday, but not all public holidays are national.
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.
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.
In 2024, Swiss National Day falls on a Tuesday which people can use to form an extended weekend.
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 5 most important national holidays in Switzerland are the following:
- Swiss National Day (1. August 2024) – Tuesday
- Christmas Day (25. December 2023) – Monday
- New Year’s Day (1. January 2024) – Sunday
- Easter (Good Friday and Easter Monday) – 29. March – 1. April 2023
- Ascension Day (9. May 2024)
1. Swiss National Day
Swiss National Day, celebrated on the 1st of August, is one of the most significant and cherished holidays in Switzerland. It holds a special place in the hearts of Swiss citizens as it commemorates the foundation of the Swiss Confederation in 1291, marking the inception of this remarkable nation.
Here’s what you need to know about Swiss National Day:
Historical Significance: Swiss National Day, or Bundesfeier or Fête Nationale Suisse, traces its historical roots back to the early 14th century.
On August 1, 1291, a historic alliance was formed known as the Federal Charter of 1291 (or Bundesbrief in German). This alliance united three cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, in the Swiss Plateau region.
The signing of this pact symbolizes the birth of the Swiss Confederation, which laid the foundation for the modern Swiss nation. Over the centuries, Switzerland expanded to include 26 cantons, each with its own unique traditions and culture.
Swiss National Day is a federal holiday in Switzerland, meaning it is recognized and celebrated throughout the entire country.
It is a day off for most citizens, with schools, businesses, and government institutions typically closed. This allows people to fully immerse themselves in the festivities and traditions.
Celebrations and Customs on Swiss National Day
The celebration of Swiss National Day is marked by a wide array of customs and traditions that vary from one region to another, reflecting Switzerland’s linguistic and cultural diversity.
The main events are being held at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen, and in the Rutli Meadow – on the shores of Lake Lucerne.
Some of the most common traditions include:
Fireworks: Swiss National Day is famous for its spectacular firework displays. These displays light up the night sky in cities and towns across the country, creating a breathtaking sight for both locals and tourists.
Bonfires: In many regions, large bonfires are lit on the evening of August 1. These bonfires serve as a symbol of unity and freedom, and they often feature patriotic speeches and singing.
Flag-Waving: Swiss flags are proudly displayed on this day, with many homes and buildings adorned with the iconic white cross on a red background. People often wear clothing and accessories featuring the Swiss flag.
Parades and Processions: Various parades and processions take place, showcasing traditional costumes, music, and dance. These events provide an opportunity for communities to come together and celebrate their cultural heritage.
National Songs: The singing of the Swiss national anthem, which has different lyrics in each of Switzerland’s four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh), is a common practice during the celebrations.
Extended Weekends: One unique feature of Swiss National Day is the possibility of creating an extended weekend. When the 1st of August falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many workers take an additional day off, either on the preceding Monday or the following Friday, to create a long weekend. This allows families and friends to spend more time together and enjoy the holiday to the fullest.
2. Christmas in Switzerland
Christmas in Switzerland is celebrated with unique traditions and a festive spirit.
The gift-bringer during Christmas is not Santa but the “Christkind” in German-speaking regions or “Le petit Jѐsus” in French-speaking areas.
This radiant, angelic figure symbolizes the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and is veiled in mystery.
The Advent period begins on the first Sunday of December, marked by Advent calendars and crowns.
Swiss families have their traditions, including decorating the Christmas tree, often done after children have gone to bed on Christmas Eve.
Christmas markets are a beloved tradition, offering handmade crafts, decorations, and delicious seasonal treats. Christmas Eve is a time for special family meals, gift exchanges, and family cookies.
On Christmas Day, church services celebrate the birth of Jesus, followed by festive meals featuring traditional Swiss dishes.
In 2023, Christmas falls on a Monday, so double-check if businesses will be open.
On four Sundays during Advent season, most shops in the center of Zurich are open 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.
3. 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 is usually from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
According to some old Swiss beliefs, the New Year’s holiday means casting off all the bad spirits and demons.
On New Year’s Eve in Switzerland, unique traditions take place in various regions:
In Lausanne, people gather at the Esplanade de la Cathédrale to light a ceremonial fire that rises from the cathedral’s bell tower at midnight, followed by celebrations with champagne and mulled wine.
Hallwil hosts a long-standing tradition of lighting a massive bonfire atop Bruderhübel Hill, with locals ringing in the new year at midnight. As part of the ritual, a group of men (Drescher) beats a wooden board to banish bad spirits, intensifying their efforts as the New Year arrives.
In Möhlin, a symbolic tradition lasting over sixty years involves forging a new horseshoe.
Starting at 11:53 p.m. at the Schmittenbrücke bridge, the process must be completed by 0:03 a.m. It is believed to bring good luck for the New Year and has become a cherished annual tradition.
4. Easter in Switzerland
Easter in Switzerland is a special time, marked by both religious traditions and joyful customs.
While Easter Sunday itself is not a public holiday, Good Friday (29th March 2024) is observed as a national holiday, when most shops and businesses are closed. This allows families to come together and participate in various Easter activities.
Surprisingly, Good Friday is not a public holiday in the cantons of Valais and Ticino, even though both of them are traditionally heavy-wight Catholic cantons.
One cherished Easter tradition is the Easter egg hunt, eagerly anticipated by children.
As Easter approaches, shops and stores display Easter eggs, chocolate cuckoos, and special Easter cakes in their windows, signaling the arrival of this festive occasion.
In Switzerland, the Easter Bunny doesn’t bring the eggs; instead, an Easter Cuckoo takes on this role. It’s common to see Easter eggs, chocolate cuckoos, and egg-shaped Easter cakes in various shapes and sizes.
Sharing wine, bread, and hard-boiled eggs is another delightful custom that brings families together during this joyful season.
The combination of religious significance and these heartwarming customs makes Easter in Switzerland a time for reflection, celebration, and togetherness.
5. The Ascension Day
Ascension Day is a Christian holiday celebrated with great reverence across Switzerland.
It falls on the 40th day after Easter (9. May 2024) and commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. This religious observance holds a special place in the hearts of the Swiss people and is marked by various customs and parades.
As a public holiday, Ascension Day is an occasion when many businesses and schools are closed, allowing people to participate in religious ceremonies and other meaningful activities.
Working on this sacred day in some regions of Switzerland is even considered bad luck, underlining the deep respect for this holiday.
The holiday is also known as The Ascension Thursday or Holy Thursday and is celebrated throughout all 26 Cantons of Switzerland. People gather for church services, including the symbolic act of extinguishing the Easter candle, signifying the end of the Easter season.
One of the most famous traditions associated with Ascension Day is the Auffahrt procession in Beromünster.
This historic event dates back to 1509 and has gained fame for its horse-centered celebrations. The procession features about 150 riders in traditional costumes galloping through the picturesque village, accompanied by flags and music.
People join the procession, creating a lively and joyous atmosphere that lasts for a four-day weekend.
These customs and parades not only honor the religious significance of Ascension Day but also serve as a reflection of Swiss culture and heritage, bringing communities together to celebrate and cherish their faith.
Holidays that only exist in Switzerland
Apart from the widely celebrated holidays, Switzerland has some distinctive festivals and customs that you won’t find anywhere else.
Santa Day – Samichlaus (6th December): Unlike the traditional Santa Claus, Switzerland has its version of Santa called “Samichlaus.” He visits homes and schools, and children recite poems to receive sweets, fruits, and nuts. An assistant called “Schmutzli” accompanies Samichlaus.
Onion Market in Bern: One of the most unique holidays in Switzerland is the Onion Market in Bern, a traditional folk festival that celebrates onions. You can find various onion-related products, including braids, garlands, and even dishes with onions as the main ingredient.
Yodeling Day in Grindelwald: Yodeling is an essential part of Swiss culture, and the Yodeling Day in Grindelwald marks the beginning of summer in the Alps. This traditional event features yodeling competitions and is a great way to immerse yourself in Swiss traditions.
Switzerland is a country that embraces its diverse traditions and holidays, making it a fascinating destination for tourists.
Whether you’re interested in the unique customs of Swiss Santa or the colorful and vibrant carnival celebrations, Switzerland offers a wealth of cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy.
If you are visiting this amazing country for the holidays, make your stay even more festive.
We at Alpha Zug are dedicated to creating a luxurious experience that will take your stay in Switzerland to new heights.