Belalp Witches' Descent
This highly unusual (and hugely popular) downhill ski race in Belalp in the canton of Valais sees teams of “witches” race 12 kilometres – all in honour of a local witch who supposedly got up to mischief in the area.
The 2019 Witches Week, which includes a wide range of races and events as well as a whole lot of partying, takes place from January 12–19. Teams can register for the Witches Descent on the event website.
Taking part is more important than winning in the Witches' Descent. Photo: Swiss Tourism.
The 'Silvesterchlausen' tradition in the eastern Swiss region of Appenzell is one of Switzerland's most intriguing. It sees characters organized into groups called 'Schuppel' chasing out the old year and welcoming in the new one.
To do this, the Schuppel groups – which are formed of characters including the “Wüeschte” (Ugly), the “Schöne” (Beautiful) and the Schöwüeschte (Beautiful Ugly, or Naturchläuse) – visit local houses and farms and wish the residents luck with the ringing of bells and the singing of ‘Zäuerli' yodel songs.
The Silversterchlausen run twice a year, first on December 31 (with events kicking off at 5am in atmospheric darkness), and then again on January 13, for the old Saint Sylvester Day following the Julian calendar. For more information, click here.
This creepy carnival tradition in the canton of Valais gets started as early as January 6th. It sees the streets of Evolène taken over by 'peluches' who wear animal skins and masks and chase away bad spirits. Then, on the final Sunday before Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), the peluches are joined by the 'empaillés' (straw men) who wield broomsticks. On Mardi Gras itself, the 'poutratze' snowman is offered up as a sacrifice.
Empaillés, or straw men are a feature of the Shrove Tuesday celebrations in Evolène. Photo: AFP
Another carnival event, this is a little like a Swiss version of Guy Fawkes Night in that it involves a lot of a bonfires and a lot of noise.
Held in northern Switzerland's Liestal on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday, it sees people carrying torches of burning pine chips (or Chienbäse) through the town. The celebration, which is thought to have its origins in a rite ushering in the spring, is definitely spectacular. For more information, click here.
Every January 2nd, the streets of Interlaken are taken over by the Hardermann and his masked followers, the Potschen, who run around scaring the locals (all in good fun) and driving away the spirits of the previous year while welcoming in the coming 12 months.
It's a cleaned-up (if still noisy) version of a festival that was overhauled in the 1950s after it became an occasion for brawls among young people from Interlaken and neighbouring Unterseen.
As for the Hardermann, he is named after a rock face above Interlaken that resembles a human face (the Hardermannli). According to a local saga, the face is that of a local monk who stalked a young woman out collecting wood. She was so afraid of the monk she fell to her death while trying to escape from him. As punishment, the monk was turned to stone and made to look down on the scene of his crime for thousands of years.
The Harder-Potschete festival in Interlaken. Photo: Swiss Tourism
Read also: The spookiest places in Switzerland