Christmas in Switzerland: An Overview

Christmas in Switzerland

“Schöni Wiehnachte!”, “Joyeux Noël”,”Buon Natale!” and “Bellas festas da Nadal!”

“Merry Christmas!” in all four of Switzerland’s official languages! (From first to last, Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh.)

Switzerland is magical during Christmas time. The country is rich with cultural traditions and festivities to chase away the gloom of the dark, Winter season. Here is a list of some of the Switzerland Christmas traditions that you may be able to experience if you visit the country in December.

Montreux Christmas
 The Montreux Christmas Market is filled with Christmas vendors that sell treats, food, goodies and all sorts of treasures.

1. Christmas Markets

Christmas markets pop up in many public squares across the Switzerland. One of the most notable is the Montreux Christmas Market along side lake Geneva. It takes place from late November to Christmas Eve and is filled with products and services by local artisans and vendors. The Chillion Castle even joins in on the festivities with its “Medieval Magic” promotion which we visit on our Christmas in Switzerland tour.

Samiclaus. Switzerland Christmas
Samiclaus and Schmutzli in the woods. Photo by Christof Sonderegger.

2. Samiclaus Day

December 6th is St. Nikolas Day in Switzerland. St. Nikolas was an early Christian bishop that went about secretly giving gifts to the poor. He is the inspiration for the modern day Santa Claus. However, unlike Santa Claus, Samiclaus walks and does not ride in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

In Switzerland on December 6th, children and their families will visit Samichlaus in his forest home or Samiclaus will parade in the streets. He is often accompanied by a figure dressed in brown, named Schmutzli. It is believed that Schmutzli encourages children to behave and punishes bad children.

Switzerland Christmas
Christmas market in Basel, City Hall with Christmas tree. Photo by Andre Meier.

3. Christmas Trees

The Swiss love a good holiday tree. They favor real trees and decorate them with tinsel and real, lit candles on Christmas Eve. They open presents on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve for good luck.

Switzerland Christmas
Swiss Christmas cookies are quite the treat! Photo by Monika Grabkowska.

4. Treats

Popular Christmas treats include gingerbread in the German speaking regions. Shortbread cookies with jellies and jams, peeking from the edges and out of creative shapes. A classic yet fancy Swiss holiday meal is comprised of ham and scalloped potatoes with melted cheese baked into it. 

Advent Switzerland
Advent calendars reward patient people. Photo by Markus Spiske.

5. Advent

Christians celebrate the coming and birth of Christ over the first four Sundays of December. Some Swiss citizens practice patience waiting for Christ as they use advent calendars. These are manifest in little houses that have 24 windows – each will open with a treat inside as a small prize for their patience.

6. Parades

Again, across Switzerland various regions hold parades to celebrate the happiness of the Holidays to chase away the dark spirits of winter. In the Bernese Oberland region, people parade in the streets as they wear masks, big cow bells (Trychle), and play drums and music to encourage a jolly holiday mood. Some of these traditions, especially in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden region, are over 200 years old!

There you have it! Switzerland is a country that is full of fun, yet unique Christmas traditions; whether that means meeting Samichlaus or catching a glimpse of a masked figure carrying a Trychie, the excitement creates an invigorating Christmas environment. We invite you to join us this next year for a magical Christmas in Switzerland to discover the rich culture of the country.

Emily Jones
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