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SWISS TRADITIONS

Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland’s ‘birthday’

August 1st is a memorable day for Switzerland, as it celebrates the agreement which made the country as we know it possible. Here is what you need to know about the historical day and the celebrations.

Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland's 'birthday'
Men dressed in traditional costumes throwing Swiss flag at the Rütli (Grütli in French) meadow overlooking Lake Lucerne as part of the celebration of Swiss National Day. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

There are few truly national events in Switzerland, a country marked by its strong federalism, with cantons with specific traditions, cultures, and languages. However, on August 1st, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day.

So, what is this celebration, and how do the Swiss mark it?

The Federal Charter of 1291

The date was chosen because the Federal Charter of 1291 was signed in “early August” when three cantons (Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwald) signed an oath to form an alliance – the document is now seen as central to the foundation of Switzerland and the reason why many call the Swiss National Day Switzerland’s “birthday”.

One holiday…four names

This being Switzerland, of course, the holiday has a name for each of the country’s official languages. So here is what the celebration is called depending on which canton you live in. German: Schweizer Bundesfeiertag; French: Fête nationale suisse; Italian: Festa nazionale svizzera; Romansh: Festa naziunala svizra.

READ ALSO: Where are fireworks banned on Swiss National Day and where are they permitted?

Different traditions for different regions

As we’ve said, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day. This means that, not unlike other celebrations and holidays, each canton, city and village will have their own traditions, sometimes quite different from one another.

Some are very famous, like the fireworks at the Rhine set off on the evening of July 31st in Basel. Or the celebration that takes place in Rütli meadow, the historic location just above Lake Lucerne, where the pledge of the alliance was signed.

READ ALSO: Ten brilliant ways to celebrate Swiss National Day

According to Switzerland Tourism: “A special kind of celebration takes place at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the waterfall has been illuminated on special occasions.”

“Since 1920, it has been illuminated regularly on August 1st, and since 1966 exclusively so. On the same day, a magnificent fireworks display also attracts throngs of spectators to this special site.”

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland celebrates its National Day with bonfires and brunch

The firework displays are also very famous in many cantons, though this year many were cancelled as the weather is dry and the risk of wildfires is high.

And although there could be fondue involved, the most typical is for the Swiss to enjoy a nice brunch or a barbecue with their friends and family.

It doesn’t stop people from making jokes, though.

The date has not been a holiday for long

Although the event that led to the celebrations happened hundreds of years ago, it took a long time for the Swiss to decide to celebrate it as a national holiday. At first, the Swiss Confederacy’s founding was celebrated in 1891; only eight years later did it start being celebrated yearly.

And only in 1994 did it become a national non-working holiday after Swiss voters massively approved a popular initiative for a “non-working federal holiday” on the date.

This year the celebrations were a bit different

Due to high temperatures and persisting drought, several cantons and municipalities have banned traditional fireworks on their territory, extending the ban to open fires.

Certain Zurich municipalities have also prohibited this practice, while further cantons indicated they might also ban fireworks should they be unsafe.

As such, private fireworks displays have been ruled out in many parts of the country and public celebrations are also affected.

Of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, some have issued total bans on open-air fires, some have issued bans covering parts of the canton, and some are only permitting fires at Feuerstelle (campfire-style open-air fire pits), and some have only banned fires in forest areas.

Still, the parties have been ongoing, with loads of different celebrations, music, parades, and many events for Switzerland’s birthday.

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SWISS TRADITIONS

EXPLAINED: What is new about Switzerland’s Fête des Vendages in Neuchâtel

The traditional Harvest Festival in Neuchâtel is reaching its 95th edition this year, starting Friday, September 23rd and ending on the night of Sunday 25th. Here's what you need to know about it.

EXPLAINED: What is new about Switzerland's Fête des Vendages in Neuchâtel

The Harvest festival in Neuchâtel celebrates vines and wine, bringing together more than 250 stands (and more than 300,000 people) between Friday and Sunday evenings in the city. It’s one of the most traditional festivals in Switzerland, taking place for almost 100 years during the last weekend of September.

The festivity days have plenty of events, but the most famous ones are the procession and the flower Corso, which take place on Sunday afternoons and can attract more than 100,000 spectators. On Friday, the costumed groups start the festival with the big procession of the Guggenmusik.

Besides the wine and local food stands, other attractions are the amusement park grounds and the Miss & Mister Neuchâtel Festival contest.

The harvest festivals date hundreds of years, but the current form has been taking place in Neuchâtel since 1925.

What’s new this year?

This year, the festival comes with a modern novelty: participants may buy a CHF 10 bracelet that can be charged with cash to keep transactions easy and contactless.

Additionally, the festival has an environmental facet, adopting reusable glasses. People will pay a CHF 2 deposit per glass which will be paid back to them on the bracelet once the glasses are returned.

You can return the glasses to all stands that sell drinks (except for the long drinks and absinthe glasses, which should be returned to stands that use them) – only the person who bought the cup can return them, so your friend cannot collect your deposit for you, for example. “This method limits the theft of glasses and facilitates logistical and safety management”, the organisers said.

How do I get there?

It’s easy to reach the venue using public transport – and those who buy the official bracelet get free access to public transport in zones 10, 11, 14, 15 and 30. The best way to reach it is by taking an SBB train to the Canton of Neuchâtel.

Public transport is also the best way to reach the area, as the Neuchâtel City Center is closed to road traffic during the Harvest Festival. Still, if you travel by car, the usual road signs will direct you to the car parks available.

How do I buy the tickets?

You can buy tickets online or in the ticket office at the event.

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