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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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UKRAINE

Ukraine war drives sudden demand for bomb shelters in Switzerland

Companies that build and repair bomb shelters in Switzerland are being overwhelmed with enquiries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Demand is so high that raw materials for the shelters are in short supply.

Ukraine war drives sudden demand for bomb shelters in Switzerland

Residents of Switzerland or even visitors will have noticed the yellow nuclear shelter signs that dot the country’s homes and buildings. 

This is not only due to a Swiss sense of preparation and pragmatism, but actually has its origins in a law which mandated nuclear shelters across the country (discussed below). 

In the six weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, companies have reported a dramatic increase in enquiries and requests for nuclear shelters to be built or renovated. 

Reader question: Where is my nearest nuclear shelter in Switzerland?

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports that companies have been “overwhelmed with enquiries”. 

Mengeu AG, a shelter company in the canton of Zurich, told 20 Minutes there had been a “massive increase” since the start of the war, with customers wanting to make sure their shelters are ready and effective should they be needed. 

“People notice that they have a shelter in the house and want to have it repaired so that it would be ready to move into again in an emergency,” Managing Director Christoph Singer told 20 Minutes. 

“But some customers also wanted to know what they would have to take with them to the shelter and whether they could take their pets with them,” says Singer.

Thomas Kull, who heads up shelter company Lunor, said people want to know if their shelters have any defects. 

“Many of these small shelters in single-family homes were built in the 1960s to 1980s and are therefore 40 to 60 years old. From a technical point of view, these systems have reached the end of their lifetime.”

READ MORE: Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on

A result was a surge in demand for raw materials, some of which came from areas now swept up in the war. 

“In addition to the already tense situation due to the corona pandemic, we now need raw materials in Europe that were previously supplied from Ukraine and/or Russia.”

Liliane Staub, from G. Bühler GmbH in Bern, said the war had led to a dramatic change in attitudes. 

“Just a month ago we were smiled at during the shelter checks. Now people are beating down our doors” she told 20 Minutes. 

What are the rules for nuclear shelters in Switzerland? 

50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the government saw nuclear war and invasion as possible scenarios — so much so, that it passed a legislation in 1963 requiring nuclear shelters in all residential buildings. 

They were to be used “during an armed conflict, especially one involving weapons of mass destruction”, according to the Federal Office of Civil Protection (FOCP), which added that these bunkers “provide a basic form of protection against a wide range of direct and indirect arms impact”. 

READ MORE: What are Switzerland’s nuclear bunkers and does each home need one?

At present these structures are no longer compulsory in single-family houses, though the law stipulates that each resident “should be guaranteed a shelter in the vicinity of her/his place of residence”.

Today, Switzerland has 360,000 communal shelters able to accommodate the entire population in case of need.

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