In Switzerland, the third Sunday of every September is designated as the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Prayer. The day afterward is also a public holiday in the canton of Vaud.
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The Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Prayer 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.
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 8 September. 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 as much observed today as it once was. 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.