Christmas in Switzerland
Switzerland has always been very special to me, not only because it’s dizzyingly beautiful or because I’ve had specially good times there, but because my son-in-law is Swiss and I love him to bits. In 2007 I spent Christmas in the mountains above Valais and there I realized that Switzerland is probably the only country in the world where nature provides all the Christmas decorations anyone could possibly need and that no man-made decorations could ever begin to compare with it.
Clusters of villages huddled around tiny churches sparkle underneath the massive Alps and when night falls and the stars come out the dazzling lights provide a Christmas scene found nowhere else on earth. Life in the Swiss villages around this time of the year is pretty traditional; families will find their Christmas trees in the local forests and children will help to decorate the trees. At this time of the year, the Swiss eat a good bit of fondue and these are expertly done with only the best cheeses – everybody has their own recipe and friends are invited to share in the good cheer. Often you’ll find the word FIGUGEGL written at the bottom of the invitation – it means “Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune” (fondue is good & will put you in a good mood). You can bet your bottom dollar there will be plenty of good Swiss white wine served as well.
Swiss Christians can be divided into 50% Catholic and 50% Protestant and people have told me that you can always tell the religion of a village by looking at the sizes of the church and the school: if the church is big and imposing, the village is Catholic but if the school is big and imposing, it’s a Protestant village. In Protestant villages, the Christmas decorations are understated but in Catholic villages, the lights are coloured, bright and shimmering. The Swiss villagers decorate a window in their homes for Advent and this often becomes an invitation for a party with friends and neighbours enjoying grilled sausages, glühweinand folk music.
Like everywhere else in the world, Christmas isn’t the same without children and here they also have a Father Christmas – only he’s called Samichlaus.
Every year Swiss children wait excitedly for from Samichlaus and his helper, Schmutzli (who got the name because he’s always dressed in black clothes) who usually visits on the 6th of December (St. Nicklaus Day) but not always. He can come at anytime during the season and when he knocks the door, there’s much excitement, albeit laced with a little fear.
Samichlaus will open his big book of naughtiness and sometimes even point out what they have done wrong. The parents obviously have a hand in this. If they’ve been naughty, they will have to listen to light hearted lecture and accept their punishment which usually consists of a poem or a song. After they’ve promised to be good boys and girls, the children are allowed to put their hands in his bag and they’ll find sweets, nuts , gingerbread and small presents (in days gone by, oranges and tangerines were also considered a treat).
THE SWISS CHRISTMAS TREE AND CHRISTMAS EVE
The tree is cut down & decorated with all kinds of baubles and loads of candles on the 24th of December; a typical dinner will consist of a boiled ham, beautiful scalloped potatoes made with melted cheese & cream or milk, walnut cakes and exquisitely decorated gingerbread. Someone will read the Christmas story from a Bible.
In the cities, Christmas has become much more cosmopolitan and commercial and is probably celebrated much like Christmas in other parts of the world.
- 1 fat garlic clove rubbed into pot
- Some Swiss Fendant wine
- 200 grams strong Gruyere
- 200 g strong Emmentaler
- 200 g Appenzeller
- 200 g Vacherin
- 3.5 deciliter Swiss Fendent wine
- 3 teaspoons of flour
- 1 shot of Kirsch
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Pepper and Nutmeg to taste
- Rustic white bread cut into one inch cubes.
- Grate cheese and mix in the white wine, then soak for 2 hours.
- Now mix the flour and the kirschwasser into a smooth paste and then pop everything into the fondue pot; heat over a low flame until it bubbles – you need to keep on stirring it otherwise it will burn or become hard.
- Don’t heat up anything until you’re ready to eat – now push your fork into a cube of bread, dip into the rich cheese deliciousness, spin it around a few times and enjoy; drink with Swiss Fendant or black tea.
SAMICHLAUS GLUH WINE
- 1 litre good red wine
- ¼ litre of water
- Lemon juice to taste
- 4 x Cloves
- 1 x generous Cinnamon stick
- Oranges, peel off the zest
- Mix red wine, water, lemon juice and spices in pot& heat until nearly boiling, pour into pre-warmed glasses and enjoy.
When it comes traditions, Switzerland can be divided into four according to the following languages spoken:
Gifts are handed out on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day and they’re brought by:
- The Christkindli or
- St. Nicholas or
- Father Christmas & his wife Lucy.
What I love the most about Switzerland is the extraordinary way in which four completely different cultures have lived side by side reasonably peacefully for centuries , always tolerant and accepting one another’s differences – yet always fervently Swiss. The Christmas tree and the manger can be found in most homes and the chiming of the silver bells will announce the arrival of the Christkindli (she’s an angel dressed in white with a face veil held in place by a jewelled crown). The tree candles are lit as she enters each house and hands out presents from the basket held by her child helpers.
- The week before Christmas, children dress up and visit one another’s homes to exchange small gifts.
- Bell ringing has become a tradition, and each village competes with the next when calling people to midnight mass.
- After the service, families gather to share huge home-made sweet doughnuts called ringli and mugs of hot chocolate.
- In Switzerland, the Chlausjagen Festival or Feast of St. Nichohlas is celebrated at dusk on 6 December with a procession of “lifeltrager’ wearing gigantic illuminated lanterns in the shape of a Bishop’s mitre on their heads.
- The Swiss wait for the Christ child called Christkindli, to arrive with gifts for all in his reindeer-drawn sleigh.