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Easter

Easter 2018 and 2019

Easter time in Switzerland has a host of interesting traditions, an abundance of delicious Easter dishes, and beautiful springtime weather in the Alps.

YearDateDayHolidayCantons
201830 MarFriGood Friday National except TI & VS
2 AprMonEaster Monday National except VS
201919 AprFriGood Friday National except TI & VS
22 AprMonEaster Monday National except VS
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The Swiss Confederation is a union of 26 cantons located high in the Alps of central Europe. Bern is its seat of federal power, and there are three main languages spoken within its bounds: German, French, and Italian. The landlocked nation has a population of over eight million, and though 71 percent of the people call themselves Christian, secularism, nonetheless, figures prominently in its annual Easter celebrations.

About 38 percent of Swiss are Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, five percent other Christian denominations, and due to recent immigration, five percent are Muslim. A full 21 percent no longer are affiliated with any religion whatsoever.

As in the rest of the West, Easter in Switzerland is more and more commercialized and less and less religious in nature. Even 50 years ago, religious observances were much stronger, but today, Easter egg painting, Easter egg hunts, Easter cakes, and chocolate rabbits are the things many most associate with the season.

Some, though by no means all, of the old religious traditions now largely died out. In St. Gallen Canton, for example, the Catholics used to erect a life-sized “holy sepulcher” on Maundy Thursday along with a representation of Christ’s body. The latter was put into the sepulcher on Good Friday. During the Holy Saturday service, this figure of Christ would be hidden so that he might reappear as the risen Savior at the stroke of midnight. People would go to churches to pray, and some were honored with the task of guarding the tomb in the darkened church buildings on Friday night. Today, however, few sepulchers are erected and standing guard is unheard of.

Swiss Easter Traditions

Some of the most notable modern Swiss Easter traditions include the following:

  • The cuckoo bird is thought to deliver the Easter eggs each year instead of the Easter Bunny, though the eggs are still brought in Easter baskets. Cuckoos are thought to be harbingers of good luck and hope.
  • It is the Easter Bunny, however, who hides the eggs. In the 18th Century, rabbits replaced their competitors the fox and the donkey as the animal of Easter, mostly because of their association with industry and kindness, which were highly held family values.
  • In the western cantons near France, the French tradition of the church bells flying to Rome the week prior to Easter holds sway. It is also believed that the bells, not the cuckoo, are responsible for delivering the eggs.
  • On Easter Sunday, eggs hidden in the garden, house, or other location are hunted down by children who place them into their Easter baskets. Whoever finds the most eggs is rewarded with extra gifts like chocolates and sugar-eggs.
  • On Easter Monday, two egg games are played. The first is “egg cracking” and consists of a contest between a child and an adult. The adult tries to break an egg the child decorated with a 20-cent piece. If the adult succeeds, he takes the egg. If he fails, the child gets the coin and the egg. The second game is “egg bashing.” It involves two people smashing the ends of their ornately decorated Easter eggs together to see whose will break first. The loser gives up his egg to the winner.
  • Feasting on Easter delicacies and even on ordinary Swiss foods is quite common at Easter time. Families gather together for special meals where traditional Swiss cuisine is usually served. The main dish will typically be lamb or ham. The ham may be prepared with pineapple or with a cranberry-curry glaze. Roast chicken flavored with lemon and herbs or garlic is another option. There will also be plenty of vegetables and fruits on the menu, helping to keep things as healthy as possible during a very indulgent time of year.
  • The Easter tables are decorated profusely with various floral arrangements, and the main course is both savory and sweet. Dessert, however, is even sweeter. Chocolate is an established part of Swiss life, much as in neighboring France, and Easter is the perfect time to see this food tradition on full display. You may also see a cheesy souffle sometimes referred to as “savory French toast.”
  • In some of the more traditional villages, the villagers are accustomed to go about town giving gifts of cheese, fresh bread, and wine around Easter time. This adds greatly to the cheer of the season, and it strengthens friendships among neighbors as well.

Easter Events in Switzerland

Five major Easter events that anyone visiting Switzerland at this time of year should consider attending are:

  • In the region known as Ticino, on the final Thursday of the Lenten season, a major passion play is performed. On the Good Friday following, a solemn procession with statues of Christ and of Mary are walked through the streets. Ticino is also a popular springtime destination, for spring arrives there earlier than the rest of Switzerland.
  • In Romont, another religious traditions survives. “Weeping women” carry red cushions with nails and a thorny crown in it through the town. A handkerchief with an imprint of Christ’s visage that, according to the tradition, was used to wipe sweat off his brow on the way to Golgotha is also on the cushion.
  • A trip to the Zurich Rabbit Museum, where a huge collection of toys and other artifacts shaped like rabbits are housed is quite appropriate to Easter. There are rabbits of glass, of cloth, bike-riding bunnies, and more. Also in Zurich, you may be able to witness the tradition of burning snowman dummies to “chase winter weather away.”
  • In Nyon, near Geneva, the city fountains are decorated with eggs, colorful ribbons, and floral arrangements to welcome the water back to the fountains as the snow melts. The city wells are also decked out for the season.
  • In Rougemont, a dozen gigantic Easter eggs are fully decorated and put on display in the village each Easter season.