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SWISS TRADITIONS

Five bizarre Swiss Easter traditions

A procession of weeping women, fountain art and boiled-egg fights. Welcome to Easter in Switzerland.

Five bizarre Swiss Easter traditions
Mourners at the Easter procession in Romont carry a portrait of Jesus Christ. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP.
Mendrisio: Easter procession, April 14th-15th
 
Dating from the 17th century, this is one of the most famous and impressive Easter events in Switzerland. In two processions on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday hundreds of participants re-enact the passion and crucifixion of Christ as they walk through streets decorated with traditional paper lanterns.
 
 
The costumes date from 1898 and are so valuable that if it rains, the whole thing is called off. Thankfully the weather’s looking good this year. 
 

Participants perform the historical Maundy Thursday Procession (or "Ceremony of the Judeans", as it is known locally) in Mendrisio Photo: RETO ALBERTALLI / AFP

Participants perform the historical Maundy Thursday Procession (or “Ceremony of the Judeans”, as it is known locally) in Mendrisio Photo: RETO ALBERTALLI / AFP
 
Nyon: Decorated fountains, 
 
Every year in Nyon on Lake Geneva there’s a competition to decorate the town’s fountains. Members of the local community including schoolchildren, local businesses, clubs and societies rise to the challenge. Members of the public can then tour the fountains for the chance to win a prize. 
 
 
“It’s lovely to see the brightly decorated fountains at this time of year – they are a fun Easter tradition,” says local Catherine Nelson-Pollard, who runs the Living in Nyon (FR) website.
 
“They are on a route that takes you past the old town, the Roman museum, the Maiître Jacques statue, the castle etc, so if you are a visitor to the town you can see the key Nyon landmarks at the same time”.
 
Fountain decoration created by the International Women’s Club of Nyon. Photo: Catherine Nelson-Pollard/Living in Nyon
 
Romont: ‘Les Pleureuses‘ (Weeping Women), April 17th
 
The village of  Romont in the canton of Fribourg stages a haunting procession on Good Friday. Commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus, 20 ‘pleureuses’ (weeping women) wearing black veils walk slowly through the town.
 
On red cushions  they carry symbols of the crucifixion – a crown of thorns, nails, hammer, birch sticks and a whip. 
 

Mourners dressed in black carry a portrait of Jesus Christ during the traditional Good Friday celebration 06 April 2007 in Romont. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Mourners dressed in black carry a portrait of Jesus Christ during the traditional ‘weeping women’ Good Friday celebration 06 April 2007 in Romont. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
 
Bern: mass Eiertütschen, April 21st
 
The Eiertütschen (egg smash) is a fun Easter tradition across Switzerland where people attempt to crack each other’s boiled eggs (without breaking their own) before eating them. It’s usually done at home, but the Swiss capital likes to go public by organizing a big egg smashing competition on Easter Sunday. Gather at 10am at the Kornhausplatz and bring your own eggs.
 

An egg hunt is a great way to spend Easter in Switzerland. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Breaking other people’s eggs is apparently a great way to spend Easter in Switzerland. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
 
Zurich: Zwänzgerle, April 22nd
 
Zurich has its own variation of the Eiertütschen, the Zwänzgerle. On Easter Monday children and adults gather at Rüdenplatz armed with boiled eggs. Each child holds up an egg and an adult stands opposite and throws a 20 cent coin at the egg.
 
 
If the coin cracks the shell and sticks in the egg, the adult claims the egg. If it doesn’t, the child claims the coin. Sound like the kids are likely to come away a little bit richer… 
 

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SWISS TRADITIONS

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?

'Flying cows' is possibly one of the more curious myths people hear about Switzerland. But is there any truth to it?

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?

If you talk to foreigners and ask them a surprising thing about Switzerland, many will mention the “flying cows”, and pictures of the animals being taken by helicopter up and down the Swiss Alps are not difficult to find.

“The cows in Swiss are taken to the highlands by helicopters for grazing during summers and brought down back again by helicopters in the winters!” wrote one person in an English-speaking forum.

The pictures of airlifted cows can be found all over the Internet, adding fuel to the myth – but the images are not fake.

So, are cows airlifted in Switzerland once the summer is over?

Yes, cows really get a free helicopter ride up and down the Alps, but only when necessary.

Injured cows that cannot make the journey walking will not be left to die in the cold mountains during the winter season. Instead, they are taken down to the area where the rest of the herd will join them via helicopter ride.

Healthy cows going down the Alps are also a sight worth seeing. In the alpine regions, the yearly march of the cows from grazing in the Alps is called “Alpabzug” (something like “drive from the mountain pasture”).

In the French regions, the march is known as “Désalpes”.

Farmers and shepherds will wear traditional clothes and decorate their cows.

The event takes place in early autumn, usually late September or early October. It is determined by the lack of grass, or if any cold spells start, so it depends on the region and can vary year by year.

The Désalpes festival

The event becomes a party in Switzerland, and people meet up in their villages to see the cows on their journey from the Alps.

They share food (especially cheese) and wine, and there are musical presentations (such as an alpine choir), yodelling, and of course, the cow bells making it known that they are coming through.

The cows leading the procession are usually the best dairy cows and receive decorated headdresses. The event has become a significant tourist attraction in the Alpine regions.

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