Swiss town cancels National Day fireworks because of bear

The Swiss mountain resort of Arosa has a new resident.

Swiss town cancels National Day fireworks because of bear
Napa was originally housed in a small metal cage before coming to Arosa. Photo: VIER PFOTEN

Last week, a Serbian circus bear named Napa arrived in town after a 1,400-kilometre journey lasting 24 hours. 

He is the first (and as yet only) resident of the much-heralded new Arosa Bear Sanctuary animal protection project. 


Napa‘s sunday view ??☀️ #arosabärenland #arosabearsanctuary

A post shared by Arosa Bärenland (@arosabaerenland) on Jul 8, 2018 at 5:30am PDT

The facility is designed to house five bears who have previously been kept in captivity in poor conditions. The plan is help the animals learn to readjust to their natural habit. 

The new bear sanctuary is set to open on August 3rd with federal environment minister Doris Leuthard on the guest list.

But Napa's arrival has thrown a spanner in the works of Arosa's traditional August 1st National Day celebrations, and more specifically the all-important fireworks display. 

Read also: Ten brilliant ways to celebrate Swiss National Day

In a bid not to disturb the new arrival, the town council has decided to not to go ahead with an official fireworks display this year and is even looking at cancelling the show in 2019. 

At the same time, the head of the Arosa bear foundation, Pascal Jenny, has asked local business and holiday home owners to be sparing with their rockets and roman candles. 

Not everyone is happy about the move to ditch the fireworks though.  

“For a few days now, Arosa has been home not just to a bear but to also to golden calf to which all must be sacrificed,” said one reader of regional daily newspaper Südostschweiz

Speaking anonymously, another local resident said: “For me, fireworks are just part of August 1st. The bear is here now but I think we need to set other priorities.” 

Read also: Swiss National Day – five traditions all expats should try

For members


Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland’s ‘birthday’

August 1st is a memorable day for Switzerland, as it celebrates the agreement which made the country as we know it possible. Here is what you need to know about the historical day and the celebrations.

Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland's 'birthday'

There are few truly national events in Switzerland, a country marked by its strong federalism, with cantons with specific traditions, cultures, and languages. However, on August 1st, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day.

So, what is this celebration, and how do the Swiss mark it?

The Federal Charter of 1291

The date was chosen because the Federal Charter of 1291 was signed in “early August” when three cantons (Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwald) signed an oath to form an alliance – the document is now seen as central to the foundation of Switzerland and the reason why many call the Swiss National Day Switzerland’s “birthday”.

One holiday…four names

This being Switzerland, of course, the holiday has a name for each of the country’s official languages. So here is what the celebration is called depending on which canton you live in. German: Schweizer Bundesfeiertag; French: Fête nationale suisse; Italian: Festa nazionale svizzera; Romansh: Festa naziunala svizra.

READ ALSO: Where are fireworks banned on Swiss National Day and where are they permitted?

Different traditions for different regions

As we’ve said, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day. This means that, not unlike other celebrations and holidays, each canton, city and village will have their own traditions, sometimes quite different from one another.

Some are very famous, like the fireworks at the Rhine set off on the evening of July 31st in Basel. Or the celebration that takes place in Rütli meadow, the historic location just above Lake Lucerne, where the pledge of the alliance was signed.

READ ALSO: Ten brilliant ways to celebrate Swiss National Day

According to Switzerland Tourism: “A special kind of celebration takes place at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the waterfall has been illuminated on special occasions.”

“Since 1920, it has been illuminated regularly on August 1st, and since 1966 exclusively so. On the same day, a magnificent fireworks display also attracts throngs of spectators to this special site.”

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland celebrates its National Day with bonfires and brunch

The firework displays are also very famous in many cantons, though this year many were cancelled as the weather is dry and the risk of wildfires is high.

And although there could be fondue involved, the most typical is for the Swiss to enjoy a nice brunch or a barbecue with their friends and family.

It doesn’t stop people from making jokes, though.

The date has not been a holiday for long

Although the event that led to the celebrations happened hundreds of years ago, it took a long time for the Swiss to decide to celebrate it as a national holiday. At first, the Swiss Confederacy’s founding was celebrated in 1891; only eight years later did it start being celebrated yearly.

And only in 1994 did it become a national non-working holiday after Swiss voters massively approved a popular initiative for a “non-working federal holiday” on the date.

This year the celebrations were a bit different

Due to high temperatures and persisting drought, several cantons and municipalities have banned traditional fireworks on their territory, extending the ban to open fires.

Certain Zurich municipalities have also prohibited this practice, while further cantons indicated they might also ban fireworks should they be unsafe.

As such, private fireworks displays have been ruled out in many parts of the country and public celebrations are also affected.

Of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, some have issued total bans on open-air fires, some have issued bans covering parts of the canton, and some are only permitting fires at Feuerstelle (campfire-style open-air fire pits), and some have only banned fires in forest areas.

Still, the parties have been ongoing, with loads of different celebrations, music, parades, and many events for Switzerland’s birthday.