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A year of festivals in Switzerland

February 28, 2012, 11 Comments

The Basler Fasnacht, or Carnival, is one of the biggest festivals in the Swiss calendar, and it’s a pretty full calendar! Even if you exclude the religious ones such as Easter and the countless music or film festivals, there are still plenty of traditional get-togethers across the towns, villages and regions of Switzerland to choose from; probably enough to fill the whole year, though many concentrate on celebrating the start of spring and the end of summer/harvest season.

From cow fighting and goose bashing to onion markets and chestnut fairs, here are some of the main folk festivals around the country (not an exhaustive list by any means), with the upcoming dates for 2012-13 where they exist. And of course, there are numerous others to discover:

January
13th (2013): Silvesterchläuse – Urnäsch (AR)
Masked men in elaborate costumes celebrate the old New Year’s Eve
26th (2013): Vogel Gryff – Basel
A griffin, a lion and a wildman of the woods dance through Klein Basel

Carnival time (February-March)
7th February (2013): Fasnacht – Lucerne
The largest Catholic carnival begins on ‘schmutziger Donnerstag’ just before Lent
14th-16th February (2013): Fasnacht – Bern
The bear is set free after its winter hibernation and confetti rules the capital
17th February (2013): Chienbäse – Liestal (BL)
Procession of flaming carriages and torches through the old town
27th-29th February 2012: Fasnacht – Basel
The ‘three most beautiful days’, starting with Morgestraich at 4am Monday morning
Tschäggättä – Lötschental (VS)
Huge hairy beasts with scary carved faces roaming around the valley

March
1st: Chalandamarz – Graubünden
Small children ringing giant cowbells to scare away the evil spirits of winter

Good Friday
6th April: Les Pleureuses – Romont (FR)
20 women veiled in black mark the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ

April
16th: Secheseläuten – Zurich
The start of spring with the burning of the Böögg, or giant snowman

May
5th-6th: Combat de Reines – Aproz (VS)
Final of the Hérens cow fighting competition to decide the ‘queen of queens’
6th: Maibär – Bad Ragaz (SG)
The end of winter with a giant flower-and-foliage ‘bear’ sacrificed for spring

June
7th: Herrgottstag – Düdingen (FR) & Appenzell
Procession with military guards and women in elaborate dresses for Corpus Christi

July
20th-22nd: Alphorn Festival – Nendaz (VS)
Annual competition with over 100 players and folkore festivities on the side

August
1st: Swiss National Day      
Grilling cervelat speared onto sticks and watching the fireworks

September
8th: Chästeilet – Hasliberg (BE)
The division of that summer’s cheese between the dairy farmers
8th-10th: Knabenschiessen – Zurich
Shooting competition for teenagers and a funfair for everyone
9th: La Bénichon – Fribourg
Harvest festival meets gourmet feast of eating and drinking
28th-30th: Fête des vendages – Neuchâtel
Costumes, bands and parades to celebrate the successful wine harvest

September-October
Alpabfahrt/Désalpe – Various Alpine places
When the cows come home from their summer holidays in the mountains

October
Aelplerchibli – Nidwalden & Obwalden
Communal eating, dancing and flag-throwing to mark the end of summer
6th & 13th: Castagnata – Ascona (TI)
Chestnuts galore: over 2000kg roasted or in jams, breads and cakes

November
11th: Gansabhauet – Sursee (LU)
A form of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey using a sword, a goose and a sun mask
7th: Rüeblimärt – Aarau
In celebration of Aargau’s signature vegetable – the carrot
26th: Zibelemärit – Bern
Everything you can possibly do to or with an onion

December
7th-9th: L’Escalade – Geneva
The victory over the Savoyards commemorated with chocolate cauldrons
5th: Klausjagen – Küssnacht am Rigi (LU)  
Vast paper headresses lit by candles and carried through town
31st: Silvesterchläuse – Urnäsch (AR)
The masked men in elaborate costumes are back for the new New Year’s Eve

The only question is: how many will you see?

11 Comments on "A year of festivals in Switzerland"

  1. Fergus Miller Monday February 27th, 2012 at 09:20 AM · Reply

    I always wonder why Fasnacht actually starts on 11.11 (My birthday BTW!) but so many parties start in the New Year? – Last year in Winterthur some Fasnacht club’s played some Guggemusig on 11.11 – but I suspect that was because it was 11.11.11!

    • diccon Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:34 AM · Reply

      In Switzerland and southern Germany Fasnacht starts on 11.11 as that’s when everything goes into hibernation, ready to emerge in the spring. For example in Bern, the bear (actually a man in a bear suit) is put to bed on 11.11 and is only woken up on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. He then leads the Fasnacht parade. It’s all about surviving the winter!

      • Fergus Miller Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:39 AM · Reply

        And there are too many other things going on for people to get drunk and look for sex – Xmas & New Year etc!

  2. Evamaria Monday February 27th, 2012 at 09:41 AM · Reply

    Just fyi, Chienbäse is always the day before Morgestraich – so it was yesterday. 🙂

    • diccon Monday February 27th, 2012 at 09:57 AM · Reply

      I know, that’s why I listed the date for 2013!!

  3. Janie Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:42 AM · Reply

    Wow, That is a strange list of things. What is cow fighting and goose bashing? Are the Swiss superstitious? Why celebrate a bear coming out of hibernation? I find it all very interesting. As in America there is very little of this sort of celebration. We do the holidays like St.Patrick’s Day where there are parades but I can’t think of anything else. There may be more in small towns where ethnic groups live. Did you know that Detroit has a Swiss group living there? I don’t know if they celebrate any of this as I live in North Carolina. Thanks for your post. It is almost always interesting. The government stuff is over my head and does not compute.lol Although I must say that the way the Swiss do things is amazing. Too bad not many people vote as you said.

    • Fergus Miller Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:53 AM · Reply

      The Bear is a “Swiss Man”! see my other comment above.

  4. SwissGuy Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:43 AM · Reply

    Actually, I should point out that the Basel Carnival is not at all about drinking! Sure, there are some people who get drunk there, but it’s mostly out-of-towners and sure as hell no active local participants. Try doing carnival the Basel way (marching band wearing masks with a very limited view of vision) while drinking – it’s impossible! Furthermore, it’s frowned upon anyway by the Baslers. We take our carnival kind of serious; it’s a folkloristic tradition to us, not a costumed spring break party!

    • Fergus Miller Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 09:54 AM · Reply

      You are right SwissGuy they don’t drink while they are marching…..they do it afterwards!

    • diccon Tuesday February 28th, 2012 at 10:15 AM · Reply

      I agree that Baslers take it very seriously, but having been twice to the Basler Fasnacht, there must be an awful lot of outsiders there because there were more than a few drunk people around. Maybe it’s because the only places that seem to be open are bars. Or perhaps they just didn’t fancy the Mehlsuppe!

  5. Tom Wednesday September 11th, 2013 at 02:20 PM · Reply

    Mmmh, they seem to have different dates for Castagnata on the city website: http://www.ascona-locarno.com/fr/commons/details/Fête-des-châtaignes-et-fête-de-l-automne-br-05-12-10-2013/98287.html (Saturdays instead of Sundays)…

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