This past weekend, a red cloaked figure with a white beard has been visiting children all around Switzerland. This is not the Santa Claus you may be familiar with, but the Swiss version. The Swiss Father Christmas is based on the legend of St Nicholas, also known as Nikolaos of Myra, a historic Christian saint.
The Legend of St Nicholas
For over a 100 years, the traditional Saint Nicholas has appeared in front of the Hofkirche in Lucerne to address the community. Since 1908, he has been visiting the families of the city of Lucerne at the beginning of the Advent season. Accompanied by singers, dwarfs, gnomes and other creatures, they all line up in front of the church, while the Swiss Santa takes the central position. His appearance concludes with a story from his book, which he reads for children of all ages.
The celebration of Saint Nicholas Day goes back centuries. Apparently, the St Nicholas custom in Switzerland became intertwined with noise and masks since pre-Christian times.
Is Santa Claus real?
The story of Santa Claus begins with a certain saint, called Saint Nicholas of Myra. Because of many miracles attributed to him, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonder-worker. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children and students in various cities in Europe. Most importantly, his legendary habit of secret gift-giving became the model for the modern Santa Claus.
Although there are few known facts about the legend of St Nicholas, it is said that he was a kind man who spread his wealth among the less fortunate. His memorial day (6.12) is celebrated in Christianity with numerous folk customs. In German-speaking areas of Switzerland, St Nick is known as Samichlaus.
The Swiss origin of Santa Claus
In and around Lucerne, villages glow with hundreds of lights. On the eve of December 5th, men and boys in white robes parade through the streets with large bishops’ hats on their heads. They artistically design these headpieces – iffelen – and light them with a candle within. Each iffele is a unique piece of art!
When St Nick visits homes, usually he is accompanied by the scary Schmutzli’s. Schmutzli is Samichlaus’ alter ego, who carries a broom and punishes children who have not behaved well this past year. Essentially, he is a symbol of evil spirits, which have to be drawn out with a combination of light and noise. In Lucerne, Santa’s Schmutzli helpers will use their whips on visitors in front of the Hofkirche. And if you try to run away, they will chase you even more!
Keeping the tradition alive
Winter processions involving loud noise and light are still popular today in many parts of Switzerland. Although Saint Nicholas Day is much different from Christmas, we can’t help but believe that Santa Claus is somewhat inspired by St Nick. Similarly to Halloween, the American Santa Claus hasn’t gained much of a following here in Switzerland. Hence, Samichlaus will surely survive the ongoing globalization, as the Swiss know how to keep their traditions alive. These kind of celebrations are crucial in bringing people together and enjoying the much important family time.
And if St Nick isn’t in your neighborhood this season, you can still celebrate his kindness with the help of some authentic Swiss treats. Bring joy to both children and adults with adorable chocolate Santa’s, reindeer, or teddy bears! They’re perfect for sharing and stocking stuffing! Furthermore, you can even decorate your Christmas tree with real Swiss chocolate. Is there anything more delicious than that? Or if melting chocolate pralines are more your thing, we’ve got you covered! Start the countdown with a piece of Swiss Christmas chocolate every day!
Forget Halloween, get ready for the Swiss Carnival!
Halloween is quickly approaching and while it’s mostly kept alive in the United States, in the past decades it has reached the European continent as well. Although it was popular in Switzerland around 1999 and 2000, nowadays it just can’t compete with the colorful Swiss carnival.
Historically, Halloween itself goes back thousands of years to the time of the Celts. The end of harvest and the beginning of the winter solstice was marked “All Hallows Eve”. It was a time when people believed the dead roamed the earth.
Nevertheless, Halloween in Switzerland is mainly a neighborhood affair in some communities. Hence, Halloween events like trick-or-treating have never caught on. To be honest, who needs Halloween in a country that has more masked carnival festivals per capita than anywhere else in the world?
Fun for days at Fasnacht Carnival Celebration
Although Swiss people like to dress up for any occasion, they do prefer a traditional element. A long-time celebration, Fasnacht carnival is full of people wearing elaborate costumes, bands playing music, food, drinks and general fun. Hence, it’s a time for the well-behaved Swiss to finally let their hair down.
You can start to feel it in February. According to an old Germanic sacrificial practice, during Fasnacht you should drive away demons and celebrate the end of winter. Traditionally it begins on “Dirty Thursday” – the Tuesday before Lent. Because Lent starts 40 days before Easter, the dates therefore change every year. Although people in some regions begin celebrating Fasnacht already on November 11th, the festivities usually start after Christmas, on January 6th. That’s the time when people get their masks out and the Swiss carnival celebration starts!
Customs and traditions at the Swiss Carnival
Although Halloween events are mostly about candy, costumes and parties, the Swiss carnival celebration is much more elaborate. The customs differ from region to region, but there are certain parallels. Similarly to Halloween, the nights between winter and spring are a time when evil spirits roam around. This period also welcomes a new life and an awakening of nature. It’s all about saying goodbye to winter and saying hi to spring! In addition, just before the period of fasting (or Lent) begins, people use up the remaining winter stores and have themselves a feast.
The Fasnacht carnival celebration is symbolized by a vast number of different characters. In general, when they perform, they appear as a uniformed group of one type of character. In most cases they playfully interact with each other. And while at Halloween parties you can commonly see nurses, celebrities or cartoon characters, Fasnacht costumes are scary and supernatural-themed. You’ll see demons, witches, jesters, animal figures and many other wild personifications.
Carnival participants walk through the streets with beautifully colored lanterns, while big bands or Guggen play out-of-tune music. The louder, the better!
Bring a Swiss flavor to your Happy Halloween
While the Swiss carnival is still months away, it’s an endless inspiration source for your upcoming Halloween events. Drive away evil spirits with a scary costume! Be creative and witty. Step away from the expected and incorporate a traditional element. In addition, you’ll have a great backstory for your costume, which everyone’s going to want to know.
Another popular Halloween tradition is to decorate your windows with Jack-O-Lanterns. Similarly in many Swiss festivals, people place candles in pumpkins and lanterns. The light chases away dark spirits.
When in doubt, turn to candy! We all know it and we all love it. Fortunately, the Swiss know their candy. It’s high quality, often from a natural, sustainable production and absolutely delicious. Packed neatly in colorful wrappers, you can give away chewy candy, chocolate sticks, branches, malt napolitains, natural hazelnut chocolates, chocolate ladybugs and other melting Swiss specialties. The great thing is that you can get them all in various sizes, right here.
Lastly, don’t forget to sing, dance and have fun! Let loose like the Swiss do at Fasnacht and have a happy Halloween!
The summer is perfect for hiking Mount Pilatus on its many hiking trails
Mount Pilatus is one of the most legendary places in Central Switzerland. Lucerne’s own mountain is composed of several peaks, the highest being almost 7000 ft (2132 m)! On a clear day on the mountain, you can experience a panoramic view of 73 mountain peaks! Everyone enjoys hiking Mount Pilatus!
The many paths range from easy to alpine, so you can choose which suits you most. Light trails for families with children, or tougher hikes for all experienced backpackers. When you get to the top, pick your perfect picnic point! Pilatus offers a range of grilling spots for your enjoyment.
The mountain of legends
To this day, the Pilatus is an origin of many legends and discoveries. Some believe that the Roman governor Pontius Pilatus is buried in the Pilatus lake. Furthermore, a dragon rock supposedly fell from the sky in 1420. Legend has it, dragons with healing powers still live on the mountain, hence the name Mountain of Dragons.
Mt Pilatus Cog railway – the steepest in the world
There are many different ways you can enjoy the magnificent views of Mount Pilatus. For over a hundred years, the rail cars of the Pilatus railway have been climbing to the summit on the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. At a gradient of 48%, the Mt Pilatus Cog railway is the only one of its kind! In addition, it has remained the same since it’s opening!
While it is not for the faint-hearted, this railway is a unique experience which you shouldn’t miss!
Take a nature hike to the best picnic point
Every nature lover enjoys eating outdoors! Grilling on the Mount Pilatus is hard to beat. With its breathtaking views and intact nature, it is the perfect spot for a day-long family outing. Not only that but on the mountain, you will find many grill & picnic spots with wooden tables and benches. In addition, you will discover fire pits with wood which everyone can use!
Pack your grill & picnic equipment and go! Take your family and friends on a nature hike they will never forget. At the picnic point you can roast some sausages, veggies or even marshmallows. Spend a day outdoors and get high on some fresh air!
Take care of nature as it takes care of you
While you are experiencing Mount Pilatus, don’t forget to tend to the nature that surrounds you. Avoid plastic cutlery by choosing Eco friendly tools for your picnic. They are not only a better choice for the environment but also a healthier choice for you and your family!
By using sustainable equipment, you will help the conservation of the local ecosystem. That way, you will be able to enjoy hiking Mount Pilatus and its gorgeous landscape for many decades to come!