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Reader question: Does Switzerland celebrate Halloween?

Switzerland has many scary year-round places and traditions.
Halloween is just around the corner, but in Switzerland it can be celebrated all year round. Photo by Monstera from Pexels
Halloween is a much awaited holiday on the North American calendar, but what about in Switzerland?

On the eve of Sunday, October 31st, kids in Switzerland, just like their counterparts in other countries, will put on their otherworldly costumes and go from door to door asking for candy.

Although it might resemble the Halloween familiar to Americans and Canadians, it is a relatively recent addition to the Swiss cultural calendar. 

At present, Swiss Halloween is more subdued than, say, in the United States, where this holiday is an all-out affair with funkily decorated houses and elaborate displays in many neighbourhoods.

And although it might be becoming more of a feature on the calendar, not everyone in Switzerland is pleased about it. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Do the Swiss celebrate Halloween? 

Although the Swiss love weird myths and legends – and any excuse to dress up – it’s perhaps surprising that Halloween has no cultural footprint here. 

This is primarily because the cultural migration that saw Halloween spread across the world largely spared Switzerland. 

The holiday itself has ancient Celtic origins, but was later picked up by Christian cultures. Initially, it was particularly popular in Ireland and Scotland, where it was brought by immigrants to the United States and Canada respectively in the 19th century. 

Since then, it has spread across the globe thanks to the popularity of US culture. 

The festival’s popularity among children – which is of course helped by the fact that candy sits at the centre of the festivities – is also a big reason for its spread, which is certainly the case in Switzerland. 

Switzerland does however have a range of spooky festivals of its own – most of which take place at the end of winter – which can be seen at the following link. 

READ MORE: Five spooky Swiss festivals that rival Halloween

The pumpkin also has a storied history in Switzerland. Bern-based historian Sergius Golowin says that pumpkin lanterns have been lit for centuries in Switzerland as a way to bring the good forces of nature back to towns and cities from the countryside. 

“The pumpkin, it was said, was like a battery supplying energy,” he said. “And the energy of nature goes into the pumpkin at this time of year. So to have a pumpkin in your house gave you this energy.”

How is Halloween celebrated in Switzerland? 

A story from news outlet Swissinfo from 2003 spoke of this “American-style” festival “creeping” into Switzerland, which shows you how recently Halloween has become a thing here. 

Although the supermarkets might not be filled with pumpkin treats and cafes will (politely) ask you to leave if you ask for a pumpkin-spiced anything, in Switzerland the trick-or-treat aspect of Halloween resembles that elsewhere. 

READ MORE: How to drink coffee like the Swiss

Kids go from door to door, knocking and asking for candy.

Due to the patchy participation however, they are bound to get disappointed a few times over the night by households who are refusing to participate – or refusing to give them any candy (which for a child sounds relatively scary and might make up the ‘trick’ component of the trick-or-treat request). 

The spread of Halloween took a hit in 2020, with several Swiss cantons advising against the celebration due to pandemic concerns. 

It is however expected to rebound in 2021, weather permitting. 

How do the Swiss feel about Halloween?

Switzerland, as a conservative country which likes things not to change – think women getting the vote in 1971 – so it’s perhaps no surprise that there is significant resistance to Halloween. 

One reason for the reluctance is the Swiss preference to be reserved and withdrawn, rather than trying to outdo each other’s costume and efforts to be the life of the party. 

Another reason is that plenty still believe the holiday is primarily a commercial event to sell costumes and candy, rather than the more traditional, less commercial festivals held in Switzerland for generations. 

A 2017 survey in French-language Swiss paper Le Martin found that almost three quarters of respondents (72 percent) said it was a commercial holiday created to sell sweets. Just 21 percent said they planned to dress up – although it’s fair to say that no children were polled directly. 

A more recent study by Statista asked Swiss people if they welcomed the fact that Halloween was being more widely celebrated in Switzerland. 

Just under a third – 29 percent – said they were completely not happy Halloween was more widely celebrated, while a further 35.4 percent said they were somewhat miffed about it. 

One quarter (25.6 percent) said they were OK with it, while only ten percent were genuinely enthusiastic about the idea. 

Statistik: Begrüßen Sie es, dass Halloween bei uns immer stärker gefeiert wird? | Statista
Mehr Statistiken finden Sie bei Statista

Again, this study is unlikely to have targeted any kids directly, which is worth keeping in mind when thinking about enthusiasm for the festival. 

What spooky traditions can I get up to in Switzerland this year?

If you’ve got your heart set on a spooky time and can’t wait for the end of winter, one option is to familiarise yourself with Swiss ghosts through a haunted house visit. 

Not just at Halloween but all year round, Switzerland has its share of ghostly legends.

Creepy castles, haunted houses and restless spirits abound here, including in the medieval alleyways of Bern’s Old Town.

As legend has it, a narrow building at Junkerngasse 54, which has been unoccupied for decades, is haunted by a woman dressed in black who sometimes appears at a window.

Then, there is the bell tower of a 12th-century Lenzburg Castle in Aargau, which is believed by the locals to be haunted —the bell is said to ring out at a full moon, even if there is no one in the castle.

Another castle, Chillon in Vaud, is also surrounded by ghostly legends. The 10th–century fortress has a dungeon where —according to a poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” penned by Lord Byron — a Geneva monk was imprisoned in the 16th century.

As though this is not scary enough, Chillon also claims to house the ghost of a Savoy duchess, Agnès de Faucigny.

The Chillon Castle claims to have a ghost of its own. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

READ MORE: The spookiest places in Switzerland

So, as you can see, there is an abundance of “Halloween spirit” in Switzerland all year round.

If, however, you have your heart set on celebrating Halloween this week, this link highlights some of the events in Switzerland.


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