6 Swiss traditions you should know
Published on January 23, 2023 / Updated on January 3, 2024
What comes to mind when you hear “Swiss traditions”? Chocolate and cheese, mountains and skiing? You may even think of Heidi. If you want to dive deep into Swiss culture, you’ll have to visit the beautiful country and take in all the traditions while you explore the grand scenery of the Swiss Alps. Or even better, partake in them! If you can’t travel to Switzerland, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here’s your primer of the 6 most interesting Swiss traditions.
Not only Venice, Rio and Cologne are famous for their carnival. The celebration of the “flesh” (Latin: carnis) allows Christians to enjoy food, drink and entertainment before the 40 days of fasting until Easter. The people of Basel kick off festivities at 4 a.m. on a Monday with a huge procession that will parade through the city for three days. People, noise and confetti everywhere! Not to mention the Guggenmusik with its characteristic brass instruments and drums contributing to the spectacle. The Fasnacht in Basel is the most famous in Switzerland and is recognized by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage. Of course, Basel itself is worth a visit, too.
In the remote valley of Lötschental, the Fasnacht tradition takes on a more sinister form. Between Candlemass and Shrove Tuesday, the Tschaggatta will scare everyone who is still out in the dark of the evening. These wild creatures seem to come straight from the world of folk tales: figures shrouded in fur, hiding their feet in sacks and their faces behind masks resembling skulls with wild hair and bared teeth. If you want to take a stroll after dark, wait for the weekend. Even these mystical monsters take a break on Sunday.
The Unspunnenfest only takes place every 12 years! A lot of this time probably goes into planning. What started in 1805 as a celebration of the peace between the people of Bern and the people in the country has become one of the biggest tourist events in Switzerland. The festival near Burg Unspunnen in Interlaken is your opportunity to see a lot of Swiss traditions in one place: Swiss clothing and dancing, stone throwing, the Swiss wrestling Schwingen, Alphorn blowing and Yodeling, all set scenically against the view of the famous Jungfrau. The Unspunnenfest starts on the last Saturday of August and lasts for one week. Don’t miss it or you will have to wait another 12 years.
Do you know how your summer will be? If not, you can find out at the Sechseläuten in Zürich on the 3rd weekend of April. During the carnival, the Böög frightened children with its scary appearance and ugly mask. Now that spring is coming Old Man Winter has to give way. How fast he does so is determined by burning a straw effigy of the Böög, taking the form of a snowman. The quicker it burns, the hotter the summer. While in Zürich, make sure to visit Lake Zürich and the lovely Old Town. But be prepared to spend some money. The cost of living in the economic center of Switzerland is high!
Swiss cows spend the winters in the villages, but in summer, they feed on the fresh green of the alpine pastures. The transition in spring and autumn is a sight worth seeing. These processions are celebrated vividly with traditional music, yodeling herdsmen, traditional dresses and the harmonious sound of the bells around the cows’ necks. Typically, the crowds will cheer them on and then turn to celebrate the beginning of the new season with food and drink.
Hornussen is a Swiss sport that combines golf, baseball and discus throwing. The team sport is originally the sport of Swiss farmers, who try to hit a discus, Nous, with a stick into the field of the opponents, who have to catch or at least stop it. Hornussen is most typical of the canton of Bern. The interesting Swiss word refers to Hornen or Hurnen, which is the sound you can hear when the Nous comes closer. If you already know some German, you may recognize the German word for hornet, Hornisse.
Cheese and chocolate are a good start to experiencing Swiss culture. But there is so much more to see and do when you are in Switzerland. Celebrate Fasnacht in Basel or hide from the Tschaggatta in Lötschental. Watch Schwingen, Yodelling or Alphorn blowing at the Unspunnenfest. Accompany the cows on their way to their summer pastures or participate in a game of Hornussen. These Swiss traditions will get you involved and integrated into society there.