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SWISS TRADITIONS

Bizarre Swiss Christmas traditions: #6 Geneva’s ‘Coupe de Noël’

In our series on the oddest Swiss Christmas traditions, we start with the La Coupe de Noël de Genève - otherwise known as Geneva's Christmas Cup - a chilly way to bring in the festive season.

Bizarre Swiss Christmas traditions: #6 Geneva's 'Coupe de Noël'
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Held every December on the last weekend before Christmas, the Coupe de Noël – or Christmas Cup – is an open water swimming race on Lake Geneva. 
 
Known as the biggest cold water race in the world, the event attracts participants from all across the globe – with experienced swimmers and beginners alike taking part. 
 
The race has taken place since 1934, the 2019 edition will be the 81st running – or should we say 'swimming'? – of the event.
 
The water temperature is on average around 5 degrees – and the participants must swim without fins, gloves or wetsuits. 

 
This year, the event takes place on December 15th, where the weather is predicted to be a balmy 9 degrees and sun. In total, 2,500 participants are expected to participate. 
 
In groups of 20 and starting out in the English Garden, the participants cover a 125-metre distance near the city's famous Jet d'Eau.
 
Far from competitive, the real competition is to choose the weirdest and wackiest outfits – from political figures to coordinated Santas – with some groups swimming the distance with a fondue pot. 
 
 
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
 
In the original edition – created by biscuit maker Rene Doria – nine swimmers took part. 

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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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