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Swiss Christmas customs

Being mainly a German-speaking country, Switzerland shares a lot of its Christmas traditions with neighbouring Germany. But it is also home to many unique Yuletide customs, influenced by the French- and Italian-speaking populations. Back in 1996, Swiss Radio International spoke to several experts to understand what are Swiss Christmas traditions and where do these come from.

This content was published on December 10, 2020 - 16:21

In addition to singing Christmas carols, which are sung worldwide, indigenous carols are also sung in Switzerland: musicologist Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser gives an example of one, highlighting the cantonal variations of what is known as "star" or "epiphany singing".

Christine Burckhardt of the Institute of Swiss Folklore in Basel talks about the tradition of Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. She also gives an example of a procession of the kind which traditionally takes place in many towns and villages between Christmas and the New Year. 

Professor Burckhardt also discusses the customs of St Nicholas and his not-so-old relationship with Christmas, and describes large processions marking his arrival, which take place around Küssnacht near Lake Lucerne on December 6. The changing role of St Nicholas' sidekick, Schmützli, who traditionally handed out sticks to children who didn't behave well during the year, is also topic for discussion.

Moving indoors, top chef Heinrich Lauber speaks of the importance of starting traditional baking early, and describes a typical Swiss Christmas Day dinner. And last but not least, Burckhardt details the central ritual of the Christmas tree, which starts making its public appearance after St Nicholas' Day on December 6.

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