Saint Berchtold’s Day falls on 2 January each year. Saint Berchtold’s Day is a tradition dating at least to the 14th Century A.D. and is in the historical record not only in parts of Switzerland but also in Liechtenstein and Alsace.
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Despite the “Saint” in the name of the holiday, history does not inform us of any Saint Berchtold. The word may have been added simply out of habit, seeing as so many other holidays are dedicated to the remembrance of saints and because the meaning of “berchtold” became obscure.
There are many theories about how Saint Berchtold’s Day got started. Some say “berchtold” is an old Alemmanic word meaning “to walk about begging for food,” implying that the drear, hungry winter months inspired the name.
Others say the day commemorates the founding of Bern by Duke Berchtold V in the 12th Century. It is said that Bern is named after the bear he killed on a hunting trip. And yet others tell us that the name comes from “Perchta,” a feminine, half human half beast creature that folklore declares “the guardian of the animals.”
However, it is likely that “berchtold” is an old High-German equivalent of “Epiphany.” The day was likely the local name for the Roman Catholic feast of Epiphany, which occurred on “the 12th Day of Christmas” to commemorate when the Three Magi were thought to have visited the baby Jesus. This theory accounts for why the celebration of Saint Berchtold’s Day waned following the Swiss Reformation, for Protestants disfavoured celebrating Epiphany. And the tweaking of the date to 2 January seems to have been a way of compensating for the loss of a holiday.