Holidays in Switzerland
Eggs and rabbits have long been associated with Easter, in Switzerland as elsewhere.
And here, like in other countries where Easter has become increasingly commercialized, the origins of this spring festival tend to fade into the background as Good Friday and Easter Monday become a welcome extension to the weekend and a chance to go on a short break.
Chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and special Easter cakes (Osterfladen) in shop windows serve to remind children weeks before the event that Easter is the time to indulge in these goodies. Easter Sunday often starts off with an Easter-egg hunt, with children combing the house or garden, eager to fill their baskets with what the Easter bunny has left. In this respect, Switzerland is no different from many other European countries or the United States.
However, a number of cantons still have their own special traditions. There are such events as theatrical performances, distribution of food, and parades in various cantons throughout Switzerland.
Advent is the period beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve, historically seen as the preparation of the arrival of Christ. During the 19th century in particular, this waiting period before Christmas was viewed as a way of teaching children patience before a reward - hence the development of the Advent Calendar, a calendar with 24 little flaps opening onto windows with images within a Christmas scene. Advent Calendars are very much a part of the Swiss Christmas tradition, as is the Advent wreath which has four candles, one for each of the Sundays in Advent (on the first Sunday, one candle is burnt, on the second, two are lit, and so on.)
St Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears not on Christmas Eve or Day, but on December 6, when children awake to find the shoe or boot they put out the night before filled with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies. St Nicholas is accompanied by a character called Schmutzli on his visits to children, in particular in the central cantons. In contrast to the Patron Saint, Schmutzli usually is a rather dark and gloomy figure who carries a cane ("Rute") as well as the jute sack filled with presents. Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of January 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.
The evening of December 24, is very much a family celebration in Switzerland. This is the evening on which small children get to see the decorated and lit tree in all its splendour for the first time, complete with wrapped gifts underneath. In Switzerland, it is not uncommon to have candles rather than electric lights on the tree. Unfortunately, there is the occasional accident involving burning trees. Electric lights decorating Swiss Christmas trees usually emit a warm yellowish light, rather than the blinking coloured lights often seen in the United States and Britain.
Who brings the presents?
Traditionally, children in Catholic areas were told that the presents were brought by the Christkind (German), Le petit Jésus (French), or Gesu Bambino. But probably these days children are just as familiar with the character almost universally recognized as Santa Claus.