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Ascension Day

Ascension Day 2017 and 2018

Ascension Day is a public holiday in all 26 of Switzerland’s cantons.

YearDateDayHolidayCantons
201725 MayThuAscension DayNational
201810 MayThuAscension DayNational

Aside from the single federal holiday, Swiss National Day on August 1st, only New Year’s Day and Christmas Day share Ascension Day’s 26-canton status. Ascension Day is known in the German-speaking regions of Switzerland as “Auffahrt” but as “Cavalcade de l’Ascension” in the French areas. In most Catholic cantons of Switzerland, there are a few extra holidays recognised, but Ascension day is celebrated by both Catholic and Protestant cantons alike. It is one of the few holidays that garnishes more “fanfare” in the Protestant sections of Switzerland.

The day commemorates what the Bible records as the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection, at which time he delivered the Great Commission to over 500 of his gathered disciples.

Pentecost is celebrated 39 days after Easter Sunday and always on a Thursday. It normally occurs sometime during May, but can range from April 30th to June 3rd, varying along with the date of Easter. In 2016, Ascension Day was on May 5th, and in 2017, it will fall on May 25th.

Church services held on Ascension Day often involve the putting out of the “Easter candle,” torch-lit processions with flying banners and “church-blessed produce,” and less surprisingly, readings of the Biblical Ascension accounts in Mathew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and Acts 1. Ascension Day traditions run deep, the holiday having been first instituted as early as A.D. 68, and in Switzerland, the religious meaning of the holiday is still very much felt by much of the population.

On Ascension Day, as on other Swiss holidays, many shops will be closed, and businesses may keep shortened hours on the preceding Wednesday. The following Friday is also often taken off to create a four-day weekend, but many shops will not stay closed through the entire period.

Those visiting Switzerland during Ascension Day may be interested in any of the following activities:

  • Attend the Auffahrt procession in Beromunster, which is easily the “main attraction” on Ascension Day. The tradition dates from at least 1509, but it became a large, horse-focused celebration only in 1780. About 150 riders in traditional costumes mount horses and ride around before spectators. Then, a foot-parade with flags, music, singing, and more traditional costumes passes through the beautiful Swiss countryside. Religious pilgrims join in the procession by the thousands, and there are large crowds watching their progress. Finally, the procession returns to Beromunster from the nearby hills and there is a big celebration with abundant, colourful decorations.
  • Tour the city of Lucerne, like Beromunster in the canton called Lucerne. The surrounding snow-capped peaks and the waters of Lake Lucerne are an attraction in themselves, but the “Old Town” is the main man-made attraction. There are city walls dating from the 14th Century and covered bridges, including Kapellbrucke, with its stunning turrets and spires.
  • Venture to the Rigi and Pilatus mountains, not far from Beromunster and Lucerne. These are the sites of a number of top skiing facilities and also a very popular place to hike and see the Swiss Alps close-up and first-hand.

While Ascension Day is the occasion for some Swiss businesses closing down, it also gives the tourist an opportunity to see celebratory processions and other attractions nearby where the processions take place.