15.04.2012 (every Easter Sunday)
- Eierleset, Effingen (AG)
- Easter Egg fun born out of the age-old tradition of celebrating spring each year.
- OSTERN (Easter)
- After attending morning church service, which features magnificent music, Easter Sunday generally is spent in merrymaking and festivity.
- Games and gaily-decorated Easter eggs are important to the young people, especially those living in towns and smaller villages. Parents often hide colored eggs under the trees and in the garden, and then call the children to "see what the Easter Hare has left for them." The boys and girls receive additional presents of little chocolate and marzipan rabbits, sugar eggs, and chocolate eggs with colored sugar flutings.
- Boys love to match eggs with friends since the one who smashes the most eggs reaps the largest reward. In some places there is a lively egg competition in which one group throws a given number of eggs into a flat basket while another covers a certain distance on foot or horseback.
SANKT GEORG'S TAG (Saint George's Day), in Turtmann, canton of Valais April 23
- The blessing of Saint George, fourth-century patron saint of domestic animals, is solemnly invoked at Turtmann's parish church on the anniversary of the saint's martyrdom.
- Farmers interrupt their work in the fields to bring their donkeys, mules, and horses to the sanctuary. There the village priest sprinkles them with holy water and gives the beasts his benediction as protection against accident and disease throughout the coming year.
MAITAG VORABEND (May Day Eve) April 30
- The custom of planting the Maitannli, the May pine tree, on May Day Eve, is celebrated widely in villages of the cantons of Vaud, Solothurn, Zurich and Ticino. In the little town of Kaiserstuhl, in Aargau, a fairly typical ceremony takes place. The village's bachelors go out at night and cut down small pine trees, which they decorate with flowers and ribbons and plant before the homes of girls they admire. Usually the pine tree is set before the sweetheart's bedchamber window. Sometimes it is placed before the gate, occasionally on the roof. Frequently a girl is so popular that she wakens on May Day morning to find she is the recipient of not one, but several trees.
- The following Sunday evening the girls entertain the boys who have left the May trees, and not infrequently, this is the time when many young people get engaged. The little Maitannli remain where they have been planted until the end of the month when they are gathered up and burned outside Kaiserstuhl's ancient town walls.
- Only girls of good character are recipients of the Maitannli. Girls who do not command respect from the village boys are likely to find a grotesque straw puppet, rather than pretty pine tree, on May Day morning.
- At Sargans and surrounding communities in Eastern Switzerland, church bells ring in the month of May. In local tradition the bells may be rung only by young men of blameless reputation, who are native to the region. As the bells ring prayers should be offered for crops; for, according to superstition, good spirits spin from the music of the bells a web over vineyards, meadows, and pastures, thus ensuring blessings and bountiful harvests.
PFINGSTEN (Feast of Pentecost), in Lucerne, canton of Lucerne The fiftieth day after Easter
- The deeply moving Pentecostal candlelight procession which starts from Lucerne's Hofkirche, or Cathedral, and winds up a narrow road to the Wesemlin, an old Capucin monastery in the hills, is typical of many religious ceremonies of the season.
- It was nearly eight o'clock as I mounted the steep flight of stairs leading to the Cathedral court. It had rained all day but suddenly snow-capped Pilatus emerged from its curtain of mist. Bright sunshine flooded the court and bathed the Cathedral's slender twin spires in golden radiance. There were hundreds of worshipers waiting in the court, and everyone held lighted candles, inserted into small paper plates to catch the dripping wax.
- By half past eight it was growing dark. The crowd stirred expectantly as the Cathedral doors opened and priests and choir came down the steps with a golden image of the Virgin. A scarletrobed prelate followed, then acolytes with tall white tapers in golden candlesticks.
- The lay procession formed quickly behind the clergy. First were the Boy Scouts with a huge rectangular lantern painted with sacred scenes. Then other youth groups followed, all wearing fresh uniforms and carrying their organization standards.
- Finally the men formed in line. The lighted candles illumined the bronzed, careworn faces and toil-stained hands of country men from surrounding villages. Last of all, came the women. I walked beside a mother with two young sons. Behind me was a tall, gaunt woman in close-fitting cap and shabby peasant clothes. The procession began to move, accompanied by the deep melodious chanting of the priests and the devout responses of the worshipers.
- Night deepened as the procession walked up the narrow stony Kapuziner Weg, past numerous Stations of the Cross, toward the monastery on the hill. Wayside altars, lighted with candles and decorated with fragrant flowers, were set up at intervals all along the line of march. Doorways were outlined with lights and festooned with flowers. The wind blew slightly now and then causing the candles to flicker.
- After what seemed like a long climb in the darkness, the procession reached the Wesemlin. The arched door of the church was outlined by stubby lighted candles; the interior was crowded with worshipers and heavy with the scent of fading flowers.
FRONLEICHNAMSFEST (Corpus Christi Feast) The Thursday following Trinity Sunday
- In many parts of Switzerland Fronleichnamsfest, or Corpus Christi, is celebrated with distinctive ceremonies that have come down from the Middle Ages. Customs vary widely from town to town and canton to canton, but this festival which commemorates the institution of the Sacrament is almost universally observed with sumptuous processions of clergy in gorgeous vestments, people in picturesque regional costume and soldiers in uniforms of former days.
- In Blatten and Kippel, in the Lotschen Valley, for example, the "Lord's Grenadiers," an honor guard in traditional uniform, stands watch over the Monstrance on Segensonntag, or Benediction Sunday. In Fribourg, where the festival assumes magnificent proportions, people decorate the facades of their houses with precious Gobelins as the Bishop of Fribourg, walking beneath a richly embroidered canopy, carries the Holy Sacrament through the streets. In Fribourg, also, as in Blatten and Kippel, the honor escort wears traditional uniform.
- In the canton of Appenzell processions featuring the old Swiss uniforms are seen, together with women in native costume, somberly garbed Capuchin monks and fresh young girls with white dresses and flower-wreathed heads.
- In many places church doors are thiown open on Corpus Christi and both altar and aisles are decorated with garlands and branches of green. Often outdoor village altars, beautiful with flowers and candles are erected in secluded spots. The priest, stepping on carpets of fragrant flowers, bears the Sacrament to the kneeling worshipers on whom he bestows his benediction.
HOCHSOMMER FEST (Midsummer Festival) June 24
- On this day valley people make excursions to the Alpine pastures to visit their friends and relations who have been with the goats and cows since the opening of the season. Families load their mules with baskets containing such satisfying picnic foods as hams, eggs, and home baked bread and ascend the steep mountain paths to the herdsmens' huts. The special bread of the season has a sweet anise flavored dough base, made with butter, and baked in fancy shapes.
- After a hearty outdoor meal at which the good valley foods are supplemented with pastoral fare such as cheese, butter, milk, cream and wild berries, the young people dance, play games, and gather mountain flowers.
- At dusk everyone brings out flutes, accordions, and alphorns. Soon the mountains echo and reecho with the old folk melodies indigenous to the Alpine regions.
- "Praise ye the Lord," sings the herdsman, offering a prayer something like this for the animals entrusted to his keeping:
- Watch over our herds, O God.
- Make our mountain pastures green;
- Keep our cows from harm
- Of storm, or snow, or sliding rock.
- Praise ye the Lord!
- Praise ye the Lord!
SANKT PLACIDUSFEST (Saint Placidus Festival), in Disentis, canton of Grisons July 11
- An impressive religious procession is held on July 11 at Disentis in honor of Saint Placidus, who reputedly was murdered near the great Benedictine Abbey he helped to found. Tradition says that Saint Sigisbert and Saint Placidus, patrons of Disentis, established the Abbey in 614. Placidus, a wealthy landowner, gave the ground, joined the religious order as a monk, and later was beheaded for defending the Abbey's ecclesiastical rights.
- Each year the relics of the two saints are carried in solemn procession from the Abbey to the parish church and back through the village to the Abbey. During the ceremonies parishioners in colorful folk costume chant the old, and very long, Song of Saint Placidus.
LES PREMICES DES ALPES ("First Fruits of the Alps" Sunday), in Vissoie (Val d'Anniviers) canton of Valais Fourth Sunday in August
- On the fourth Sunday in August dairymen of Vissoie, in the beautiful Val d'Anniviers, hold an impressive service at which they present the parish priest with cheeses known as les premices des Alpes, the "first fruits of the Alps." These gifts are made in appreciation of faithful spiritual service the priest has rendered to the members of his flock who annually migrate with their herds to high alpine pastures.
- In early spring the men leave the valley with their animals and dairy equipment and slowly ascend the steep passes to summer huts perched in the mountains where the grass is green and lush. Throughout the season the priest regularly visits the men to read Mass and administer Holy Sacraments. Traditionally, the dairymen dedicate to the priest all the milk their herds yield on the third day after their arrival in the mountairis. This milk they make into cheeses, which are large or small according to the number of cattle in the herd.
- At the end of summer, the justice of the Peace of Val d'Anniviers, his assistant and recorder, count, inspect, and weigh the cheeses brought back to Vissole with the returning herds. The cheeses then are displayed so all can admire them. After High Mass, the fifteen dairymen of the district march in procession to the altar, each man carrying his own cheese. The dairy master of the Alp Zatelet Praz comes first, since his cheese, wbich weighs eighty pounds, is the largest. The other masters of the Alpine pastures follow in order, according to rank. The procession ends with the Alp Ponchette pasture's offering, which weighs approximately eight pounds.
- The dairymen stand in a line before the altar, with Vissoie's red-and-black-robed magistrates on either side. After the ceremony of giving the "first fruits of the Alps" to the priest, the dairymen once more form in procession and march to the parsonage. There the village celebration ends with feasting, toasts, and speeches beneath the chestnut tree in the priest's pleasant courtyard.
SCHAFER SONNTAG (Shepherd Sunday), in Belalp, canton of Valais The second Sunday in September
- The return of the sheep from summer pasture in the mountains is a time of great rejoicing in Belalp, as in all other sheep raising areas.
- As the sun rises on the Alpine plateau of Belalp sheep owners and peasants gather at open air Mass to pray for the safe return of flocks. The shepherds, meanwhile, assemble their animals on the mountain and start them down on their perilous journey toward the plateau. The villagers anxiously watch for the appearance of the beasts. As they descend the mountain everyone lends a hand in penning the sheep in a great overnight enclosure. A hearty "Sheep Dinner" brings the day to a fitting close as shepherds are reunited with families and young girls with their sweethearts.
- The day following, owners sort their sheep, wash them in the lake and prepare for the task of shearing.
ZYBELEMARIT (Onion Market), in Berne, canton of Berne Some time in November
- Each year the historic Zybelemarit, or Onion Market, is held in Berne where all housewives of the area stock their larders with winter supplies of onions. The picturesque market is filled with countless stalls which are hung with strings of onions, both large and small. Bins of onions and baskets of onions of all varieties, sizes and shapes furnish lively interest to prospective purchasers.
- The Onion Market is a festive as well as a commercial event. Crowds of young people surge through the arcades laughing and pelting each other with bright-colored confetti. Later many groups meet to sing and dance far into the night.
SAMICHLAUS ABEND (Santa Claus Night) December 6
- Swiss Christmas festivities officially begin on December 6, Samichlaus Abend, Santa Claus Night. Samichlaus, a sack of nuts, apples and cookies slung over his shoulder, often parades through the streets and rewards good children with his coveted gifts, bad ones with a switch. Samichlaus is both loved and feared. His costume varies from place to place, as does the date of his visit. Each village or canton has its own traditions concerning the ancient bishop saint, patron of all children, but especially of school boys. Each community observes his festival in its own peculiar way.
- One of the most spectacular Samichlaus celebrations is in Zurich where the saint, wearing a red coat and carrying a bulging bag over his shoulder, leads a procession of teen-aged boys and girls. The young people who are known as the Wollishofer Klause, or "Klauses" from Wollishofer, a Zurich suburb, wear long white robes. On their masked heads are magnificent headdresses fashioned from cardboard and ornamented with intricate cut-out designs, covered with colored silks. The headdresses, illumined from within by lighted candles are reminiscent of the traditional jewel-incrusted miter of Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra, and precursor of the modern Samichlaus. The Klauses, whose illumined hats glow like rich stained glass, ring bells, blow trumpets and toot horns to frighten away the evil spirits that once were thought to roam abroad at Yuletide.
- Similar processions occur in many parts of Switzerland. In the Aegeri valley, for example, school boys wear illumined hats and carry mountain lanterns. They drag about large sacks for goodies. Parading through village streets, they clang huge cowbells and stop at every door for contributions.
- At Kaltbrunn, in the canton of Saint Gall, the paraders also wear magnificent headdresses. The youths dress in white, as at Zurich, but enliven their costumes with gaily embroidered suspenders and broad herdsmen's belts.
- The burning of many lights and making a terrific racket--these two customs in Swiss Samichlaus processions come from pre-Christian times; for light and noise were the means primitive peoples used to frighten away midwinter's demons and devils.
HEILIGER ABEND (Christmas Eve) December 24
- Christmas Eve, possibly more than any other holiday, is celebrated differently in different parts of Switzerland. In some places children think that Christkindli, the Christ Child, makes village rounds in a sleigh drawn by six fine reindeer. Christkindli carries a load of toys and gifts, as well as glittering Christmas trees which are well laden with oranges, apples, nuts, and cookies baked in many delightful shapes.
- In the vicinity of Hallwil, in the canton of Lucerne, Christkindli is impersonated by a young girl in white, who wears a sparkling crown on her veiled head and is accompanied by white-robed children, with lighted lanterns and baskets of aifts. Youngsters eagerly await the sound of the tinkling bell which announces Chrislkindli's arrival at the door. As soon as she enters a house the Christmas tree candles are lighted. Christkindli and her attendants sing carols and distribute presents. Then Christkindli shakes hands with everyone and slips away to visit other neighborhood children.
- In many homes the Christmas tree is kept behind closed doors--a carefully guarded secret--until after Christmas Eve supper. Then the doors are flung open and the tree is displayed, beautiful with its lighted red tapers and simple ornaments. The branches are hung with polished red apples, silver bells, white cotton snowballs, candles, and cookies cut out in adimal shapes. Children and adults gather about to listen to the Nativity story and sing "Stille Nacht" before looking for the presents which are hidden in all sorts of odd places. Children's gifts often consist of practical items, such as knitted mittens, socks, a bright new cap, warm jacket or pretty frock, or perhaps a knife, some hand carved toys, or even a homemade doll.
- For weeks before the holiday housewives are busy preparing the many fancy breads, cookies and cakes, both baked and fried, which are served in enormous quantity together with coffee, throughout the Christmas holidays. In the Valais Ringli, or huge doughnut-like cakes and hot chocolate are eaten after Midnight Mass. Perhaps the most traditional of all Yuletide cakes, however, are Zurich's golden brown Tirggel which people say originated as pagan offertory cakes. Made of flour and honey, as in olden times, these cakes which once were cut in cow, sheep, pig and other sacrificial animal shapes, now include, also, an endless variety of modern motifs. The Tirggel dough is pressed into elaborate molds representing story book cartoons, fairy tale episodes, portraits and many other subjects. Triggel, which are thin, hard, and shiny, are sometimes as large as window panes. Often the cakes, which keep for months, even years, are so unusual or artistic that people use them as decorations.
- Bell ringing and carol singing characterize the Swiss Christmas Eve ceremonies, while Midnight Mass is widely attended through- out the country. In 1540, the Brotherhood of Saint Sebastian instituted one of the most unusual carol services when the town of Rheinfelden, in the canton of Aargau, was swept by plague and the Brotherhood (which was started by twelve men and still maintains the same membership) invoked its patron's aid.
- On Christmas Eve before Midnight Mass, twelve Brothers, dressed in sombre garments and tall black hats, assemble in Rheinfelden to commemorate the tragic event of over four centuries ago. The Brothers, who are led by a lantern bearer, go through the town stopping to sing a traditional carol at each of seven different fountains. Three times during the singing of the carol mention is made of the Son of God. Three times the Brothers remove their hats in His honor. After the ceremony at the seventh fountain the Brothers join Rheinfelden's other citizens in attending Midnight Mass.
- Many naive folk superstitions exist regarding the miracles of Christmas Eve. One is the widespread belief that dumb animals are blessed with power of speech at midnight because they were present at Jesus' birth. For this reason peasants give their horses, cows, goats and other creatures extra portions of grain, salt, and hay on the Holy Night, but farm hands take care not to linger near the stables lest they overhear what the animals are saying and so invite misfortune. Some housewives clip their chickens' wings between eleven and twelve o'clock so their fowls will be saved from beasts of prey; and old folk predict weather for the next twelve months by peeling off twelve layers of onion skin and filling them with salt.
- Christmas Eve is auspicious to young lovers. It is said that those wishing to foretell future events should drink from nine different fountains while the midnight church bells are ringing. Then the girl or boy must hasten to church, where the future mate will be seen standing on the steps.
WEIHNACHTEN (Christmas) December 25
- Christmas marks the beginning of winter sports, such as skating, skiing, sledding, and tobogganing. Between Christmas and New Year's Day, especially in mountain villages, people continuously visit neighbors, relations and friends. lass, the national Swiss card game is a perennial favorite at these gatherings, which end with a Kaffeeklatsch, or coffee served with many varieties of homemade holiday cakes.
SILVESTERABEND (New Year's Eve) December 31
- In Appenzell and other cantons of eastern Switzerland there is an old folk tradition that spirits of darkness walk abroad on Silvesterabend, the last night of the year. The demons must be frightened away with lashing whips and ringing bells, lest they linger and work evil on men and beasts. For centuries men and boys have masqueraded at this season as Silvesterklause, or Silvester Klauses, in costumes characterized by enormous bells and grotesque headdresses. Sometimes the headdresses represent bridges or houses, sometimes jesters or other charactcrs. The men playing the feminine roles wear round painted masks and brightly decorated round hats. Strings of round bells, graduated from large to small, hang from either shoulder, over gaudy peasant costumes.
- The Silvesterklause who are especially associated with the towns of Herisau and Urnasch, perform dances and antics that are sufficiently noisy and fantastic to route the most persistent demon hordes.
- In Geneva Silvesterabend is celebrated in quite different fashion. Great crowds gather at the square before the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Pierre to listen to the midnight chiming of the bells. The ringing of la Clemence, the bell Swiss people claim is the oldest and most beautiful in all Europe, is one of the impressive attractions of the occasion. As the New Year is ushered into the world, people dance in the streets, embrace, and wish each other health and prosperity in the coming months.
- Children rise early on this day because of the saying that whoever gets up last in the morning will be Silvester in the home, and whoever reaches school last will be Silvester at school. Both at home and school these sluggards are greeted with deafening shouts of "Silvester!"
- In many rural areas bonfires built on the mountains and village church bells rung in joyous harmonies announce he passing of the Old Year and the arrival of the New.