If you’re dreaming of spending the holidays in a place that looks like it should be on a postcard, Switzerland is calling your name. Christmas in Switzerland is nothing short of enchanting. It’s a season filled with Christmas markets, cookies, carols and Swarovski crystals. So, get your Glühwein and Grittibänz ready, and discover Christmas in Switzerland.
- How does Switzerland celebrate Christmas?
- The best Christmas markets in Switzerland
- Other places in Switzerland to enjoy the festive season
How does Switzerland celebrate Christmas?
In true Swiss style, Santa Claus makes an extremely punctual arrival in the Alpine nation. In fact, Samichlaus, as he’s known in Switzerland, visits Swiss children on December 6. Samichlaus looks rather different from the American version of Santa Claus. For one, he’s accompanied by a donkey. And instead of elves, he arrives with his helper Schmutzli, which most closely translates to “little dirty one.” He does hand out gifts to children, typically in the form of chocolates and fruit.
The main Christmas celebration, known as Heiliger Abend, is on December 24. Many Swiss people decorate their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and presents are exchanged after dinner. For children, presents on Christmas Eve usually come from the Christ child. There’s no one traditional dish to commemorate Christmas Eve, though many Swiss eat fondue or raclette. Following dinner, many families attend Midnight Mass.
There are many Christmas traditions in Switzerland that you might want to take part in. One is baking cookies such as Zimtsterne and Grittibänz, the latter of which is a sweet doughy treat in the shape of a person. Another tradition is making a traditional Advent wreath to count down the days until Christmas Eve.
The best Christmas markets in Switzerland
For sheer variety, you can’t beat the Christmas markets in Switzerland’s capital city, Bern. In Waisenhausplatz, you’ll find a traditional market, while in Münsterplatz, outside Bern Münster, you’ll be able to pick up some traditional handicrafts. There’s also the Berner Sternenmarkt in Kleine Schanze, which may be the youngest of Bern’s Christmas markets but rivals the other two in charm. You can buy the Berner Weihnachtspass to enjoy discounts and freebies at the markets.
One of Switzerland’s most delightful Christmas markets is held in the town of Chur, in the canton of Graubünden. In the festive old town, lights twinkle over the 160 stalls selling regional and handmade products. The market is also a great place to try some Christmas delicacies, including barley soup and Mailänderli (cookies).
In 2021, Basel fended off steep competition to be crowned the best Christmas market in Europe. It’s also one of the largest markets in Switzerland, and a firm favorite among visitors. The market stretches from Barfüsserplatz to Münsterplatz, where the beautifully decorated town Christmas tree stands. Be sure to try Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) when you’re here.
For more than a touch of Christmas sparkle, head to the markets in Zurich. As the main train station transforms to accommodate an indoor market, the Christmas tree goes up, bedecked and bejeweled in thousands of Swarovski crystals. More traditional markets can be found in the Old Town and Sechseläutenplatz, in front of the Opera House. But the Swarovski tree isn’t the only arboreal attraction in Zurich; at the Christmas market in Werdmühleplatz, you’ll find the Singing Christmas Tree. Throughout the festive season, various choirs stand on podiums in the “tree” and serenade visitors to the market.
Other places in Switzerland to enjoy the festive season
Want to feel like you’ve stepped into a Christmas card? Head to the Alps to spend the festive season in Switzerland. Zermatt, with its vehicle-free policy, is one of the best places in Switzerland for Christmas, and you can ski and hike in the snowy mountains under the watchful eye of the Matterhorn. Alternatively, for a Christmas holiday steeped in luxury, visit the ski resort of St. Moritz, where you can enjoy a Christmas market, ice rinks and lots of traditional Swiss cuisine.
Are you spending Christmas in Switzerland?
The Alpine nation is one of the best places in Europe to spend Christmas. In the runup to the holiday itself, be sure to visit a Christmas market or two. You might want to mix it up and see which vibe you like best — is it the fancy one in Zurich, or the more traditional one in Chur? Then, throw yourself into local traditions and bake some cookies and make an Advent wreath. Finally, pick your place to spend Christmas Eve to celebrate Heiligabend.