Christmas in Switzerland shares many of the customs of its neighbors Germany and Austria. But it has many traditions of its own!
Advent marks the beginning of Christmas preparations. Advent calendars and crowns are popular. In some villages, there are “real” Advent calendars with different houses that decorate an “Advent Window”. On the day that is your house with the advent window, you organize a party for the villagers at night. There is food, mulled wine (called Glühwein) and music.
The Christmas markets are very popular in towns and cities where you can buy all kinds of food and Christmas decorations. There are large luminous screens and you can enjoy a little more warm Glühwein!
There are many local traditions of parades and singing of Christmas carols in Switzerland.
In the Bernese Oberland region, there are processions that start on Christmas day and end on New Year’s Eve. They are known as the ‘Trychle’, as people parade with a large Trychler (cow bell) or carrying drums and usually wear masks. They walk through the streets making a lot of noise and are meant to scare evil spirits!
The processions of ‘Urnäsch Silvesterkläuse’ take place in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden, especially in the villages around Urnäsch. They take place from December 31 to January 13 and go back more than 200 years. The people (known as Kläuse in the processions) wear costumes, masks and head dresses. They go from house to house singing and making a lot of noise to wish people a good new year.
‘Star Singing’ is also very popular with children. They are singing Christmas carols from the last week of Advent to the Epiphany, with a great child star of them. The star represents the star that the wise men followed when they visited the baby Jesus.
In Switzerland, San Nicolás is known as ‘Samichlaus’ and could visit you on December 6th. You can also be lucky enough to have some gifts from the baby Jesus (or Santa Claus) on the 25th and at Epiphany (January 6th), it can be visited by the Befana (in southern Switzerland) and / or the Three Kings. (in the rest of Switzerland). That’s a lot of current traitors!
Christmas trees are popular in Switzerland and are usually bought and decorated on Christmas Eve. Some people like to use real candles on the tree, which are traditionally lit on Christmas Eve (when gifts are opened) and on New Year’s Eve (for good luck).
The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and popular meals include a Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes with melted cheese and baked milk. The desert is often a walnut cake and Christmas cookies.
Cookies are very popular to buy and make. Each family has its own recipes and favorites.
Another popular meal, especially for the holidays, is the fondue (a pot of melted cheese in which you submerge the bread, and you may have to kiss the person on your left!). Sometimes ‘FIGUGEGL’ (fee-goo-geck-ul) is added to the invitations to the party. This means “Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune” (the fondue is good and gives good humor).
There are four official languages in Switzerland, Merry Christmas in Swiss German is ‘Schöni Wiehnachte’, in French it is ‘Joyeux Noël’, in Italian it is ‘Buon Natale’ and in romanche it is ‘Belles festas da Nadal’.