Many know that Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world, that its citizens have one of the most desired passports on the planet and that their chocolate is to die for. They’re also famous for their amazing ski resorts like La Siesta and many others that have made quite a reputation for themselves throughout the years. What’s not common knowledge is that the Swiss also have unique traditions deeply rooted in the pagan customs of old. If you do some research, you’ll find out that there are unique festivals, rituals, and festivities you can witness if you go to certain parts of Switzerland at the specific time of the year. Here are 5 winter traditions you won’t find anywhere else.
Winter Traditions You Won’t Find Outside of Switzerland
1. Harder Potschete (January 2nd, Interlaken)
After the main part of the New Year’s festivities is over in the most parts in Switzerland, something quite unique starts in Interlaken. Long ago, when this town was under a monastery jurisdiction, young men would come to the monks of the monastery to claim their rightful and well-earned ration of wine, loaves of bread and gold. With time, the date became known because the youngsters from Interlaken and Unterseen, two rival towns, would settle their feuds by fighting with their bare hands. Thankfully, for over a half a century, Potschete is the celebration of everything new in the New Year, as well as an opportunity to banish all the unwanted bad energy from the last year. On January 2nd, expect to see many people with wooden masks wondering the streets and if some of them try to dance with you, no worries, just dance along.
2. Bern Onion Market (November 28th)
Let’s step away from history and scary masks in the night for a second and focus on another event completely unique to Switzerland. On every 28th of November, there is full-fledged onion market in Bern. Any type of onion you can think of, any specialty in which the main ingredient is onion, you’ll find it here. It might seem bizarre, but the market truly looks beautiful with all the colors and onions in all shapes and sizes. Incredible amounts of this vegetable are sold in Bern this day, so it’s worth checking it out if you happen to be in the city at that time.
3. Pschuurimittwucha (Ash Wednesday, Splügen)
If you’re an unmarried woman or a child, you would do well to steer off the streets of Splügen on Ash Wednesday. The name of the day is revealing, since it’s a custom for Pschuuris to roam around the town, find their “victims” and completely cover their faces with ash. It’s a peculiar, yet interesting tradition, as young women and children find clever ways to avoid “ashing” to show their wit and vigilance.
4. Celebration of Saint Nicholas (first weekend of December, Fribourg)
If you never had a chance to meet the Santa, this is your opportunity. Citizens of Fribourg gather on the city’s main square every first weekend of December, to listen what their saint patron, Saint Nicholas, has to say. These speeches are to entertain the audience, make them laugh and reminisce about the year behind them. After that, practically the entire city heads out to an abundant feast that will attract another year of prosperity and growth.
5. Chienbäse (first Sunday of Lent, Lestal)
If fire fascinates you, then Chienbäse is a festivity you need to see for yourself. In the town of Lestal, on the first Sunday of Lent, torches are lit all over the main square at 7:15 PM, while all the other lights are shut down. The symbolic light of a fire in complete darkness is there to remind that winter is almost over and out of its dark, a new life is born. There’s an entire carnival to see before the torches and carts are set on fire as the night falls, and after that, the real party is set to begin.
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