Advent and Christmas: Swiss traditions and customs
The most important things in brief
- Advent calendars, baking cookies, the Advent window and the Advent wreath are just a few of the Swiss traditions leading up to Christmas.
- On December 6th, for example, Santa Claus comes, and carol singers parade through the towns and villages during Advent.
- And at Christmas dinner, too, we stick to the regional family traditions that we've been used to since we were little.
- For many, visiting the nativity play is part of the traditional ritual on the festival days themselves.
Christmas and the entire Advent season are full of family traditions and customs that are typical of the region or country. It's no different in Switzerland. In this article, we do not want to look at customs such as Advent wreaths, Advent calendars and baking, but rather devote ourselves to customs such as Santa Claus and carol singers. We also take a close look at some Swiss food traditions for the festival.
The first highlight is on December 6th
On December 6th, the anniversary of the death of Nikolaus von Myra, there is the first real and traditional highlight of the pre-Christmas period, especially for the children. Santa Claus comes to visit and brings the little ones tangerines and clementines, nuts and biscuits, chocolate and gingerbread and other sweets.
According to the legend, Nicholas of Myra was orphaned at a young age and inherited a lot of money. But he gave away his wealth to the needy and later became a bishop. In German-speaking Switzerland, Santa Claus brings his companion with him: Schmutzli. Its original purpose was to scare those children who hadn't been good or well-behaved in the past year.
Carol singers and women carrying
A religious custom that has already been forgotten in many places: carrying women. The people gather in front of the church of the community and carry a picture of Mary from house to house. Sometimes the effigy stays with a family overnight and is carried on the next day. Finally, on Christmas Eve, it is brought back to the church.
Carol singing is a nice custom, but it only takes place at the end of Advent, namely between Christmas and Epiphany on January 6th. The children, disguised as the Three Kings, go singing from house to house and are rewarded with biscuits and sweets at the front doors.
Christmas dinner and nativity play
When the holidays finally roll around, many families look forward to their food traditions. But these are different across Switzerland. Cheese fondue, rolled ham, fondue chinoise, raclette are some of the Swiss favourites, in German-speaking Switzerland roasts with potato salad are served here and there, while in Ticino and western Switzerland poultry (capon and turkey) are very popular. In the canton of Bern, meat is often served with sauerkraut and potatoes, the Berner Platte, while in the canton of Aargau, pastries are served with milk.
The lavish feasting of the holidays stems from another ancient tradition: the Advent fast. This religious tradition used to end with the breaking of the fast at Christmas.
For many people in Switzerland, but also in other countries, they go to church before or after eating. When the whole family goes to prayer, parents like to make sure that there is also a nativity play to sweeten the mass for the children.
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