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Christmas

Christmas 2017 and 2018

Christmas in Switzerland is celebrated, in many ways, as it is in the neighbouring nations of Austria and Germany, from which many of its Christmas traditions derive. Nonetheless, there are unique Swiss Christmas traditions and events to be encountered as well.

YearDateDayHolidayCantons
201725 DecMonChristmas DayNational
201825 DecTueChristmas DayNational
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The Christmas season in Switzerland commences with Advent in late November, and Advent calendars are often used to count down the days to December 25th. Additionally, houses in some neighbourhoods rotate in decorating an “Advent window” and holding special Advent parties.

Throughout December, there are many Christmas markets in Switzerland’s major cities, along with elaborate festive lights displays and local parades. Children will also sometimes go carolling, called “star singing” in Switzerland because a large star is worn on the children’s heads to represent the star of Bethlehem.

“Samichlaus” (Santa) will arrive on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas’ Day, bringing presents to good little Swiss girls and boys. On December 25th, Baby Jesus or Father Christmas will deliver the gifts. And finally, on January 6th (Epiphany), the Three Wise Men will bring yet more presents. Thus, Swiss kids are fortunate that numerous Christmas present traditions have converged in their country.

Christmas trees are set up and decorated in Switzerland much as in other lands. Lights are used by most, but some of the more traditional Swiss families still use candles. The candles are not lit until December 24th, and that is when the gifts Baby Jesus brought are opened as well.

Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve and often features a “Christmas ham” with scalloped potatoes as the main side dish. Fondue, a kind of cheese sauce meant for bread-dipping, walnut cake, numerous varieties of cookies, and “Gluhwein” (mulled wine) are also common Swiss Christmas foods.

Should you visit the land of Switzerland around Christmas time, some activities and events to be aware of include:

  • The Christmas processions in Switzerland’s Oberland region, which run from December 25th through January 1st. People parade down the streets wearing clanking cow bells, beating on drums, and wearing interesting masks. Originally, these events were designed to “scare off the evil spirits.”
  • The New Year’s processions that take place in the villages near Urnasch. They run from New Year’s Eve until January 13th and have been a tradition for more than two centuries. The marchers dress up in traditional costumes and don colorful masks and headdresses. They are not content to be confined to the streets, however, and go door to door, singing and shouting out “Happy New year!”
  • Any of the many Christmas markets held throughout Switzerland this time of year. Here are what are arguably the “top three:”
    • The Basel Christmas Market, which sells an abundance of chocolates and cheeses, besides serving mulled wine and other Swiss Christmas delicacies. There will also be brightly lit Christmas pines and plenty of entertainment. This is the largest of all of Switzerland’s Christmas markets.
    • The Montreux Christmas Market, set amid towering mountain peaks and not far from the shores of Lake Geneva. The Montreux market is well known for the numerous Yuletide events that take place there every year.
    • The Lucerne Christmas Market, which has dozens of stalls devoted to local art displays, handicrafts, traditional local cuisine, and presentation of Swiss customs.
  • The numerous Christmas events in Zurich. First, there are many Christmas markets in town, especially in the Niederdorf Quarter and at the Main Train Station. There are also numerous Advent concerts that take place in Zurich, and the biggest open-air ice skating zone in all Europe is in Zurich’s Dolder Sports complex.
  • Finally, Zurich is a major Christmas shopping hub during the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Many small shops that usually close on Sundays stay open to accommodate the hordes of shoppers, especially downtown along the street called “Bahnhofstrasse.” The neighbourhoods of Aussershil and Zurich West are also shopping hot spots. Shopping goes on late into the night, aided by profuse city Christmas lights displays.

In Switzerland, Christmas is the most celebrated holiday on the calendar, and tourists will find it is one of the best times of year to tour the country.