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Federal Fast Day

Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer 2018 and 2019

In Switzerland, the third Sunday of every September is designated as the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Prayer.

201817 SepMonDay after the Federal Fast VD
201916 SepMonDay after the Federal Fast VD
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It is a day on which Catholic, Reformed, Jewish, and other denominations and faiths join together in ecumenical causes and prayer events in various Swiss cities. It is not an off-work day, and most businesses will be open for business as usual, but many still take the occasion to fast, pray, ask forgiveness for personal and nationals sins, and give thanks to God for all blessings received.

Days of fasting and prayer are mentioned throughout the Bible, and a Protestant tradition of designating national days of fasting and prayer arose in the years following the Reformation. Such days also existed prior to the Reformation, typically as ways to seek Divine mercy after a famine, plague, or other calamity struck.

Originally, days of thanksgiving and prayer were sporadic and only on the canton level. Later, in 1831, a permanent, federation-level day was established on September 8th. The date was eventually moved to the third Sunday in September, except in Geneva, which retains the old date. The attachment to the old date in Geneva stems from its origin in the days of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in neighbouring France, when huge numbers of French Protestants were murdered in a deliberate plot to exterminate them. In French-speaking, Protestant Geneva, empathy for the victims was very strong, and today, “Jeune Genevois,” the Genevan version of the federal day of thanksgiving and prayer, is both a patriotic and religious symbol of Geneva’s proud history and identity.

Much of Switzerland today is very secular, and this holiday is not much observed as a day to do what the name instructs. Nevertheless, it is a time when all Christian denominations, local governments, and secular foreign aid organisations join together to give to special projects for the aid of the world’s poor and needy.

Three ideas on what to do if in Switzerland on the third Sunday of September are:

  • Visit the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in the Medieval Old Town of Lausanne. The city overlooks beautiful Lake Geneva, the cathedral is an impressive Gothic structure with rose-coloured stained glass windows, there are Medieval towers, castles, and city wall remnants, and you can travel around town in the local Metro that runs below the mountains.
  • Tour the main branch of the Basel Historical Museum, “Barfusserkirche” (Barefoot Church), where you can see cultural and religious relics of Medieval and Renaissance era Basel. Especially look for the Basel Cathedral Treasure, antique prayer altars, and religious artwork. In another branch of the museum, you will find 500 years of musical history, including how choirs sang and what instruments aided the praise of God in Medieval churches.
  • Stop by Geneva during Jeune Genevois to taste the traditional plum pie eaten on this day of prayer. Fresh, local plums are picked and baked in a pie that lacks an upper crust “because it tastes better that way.” You can also buy fresh-picked plums from local vendors and eat them as they are.

Visiting Switzerland during the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Prayer gives special opportunity and occasion for a number of tourist stops you will not soon forget.