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Why most of the country will celebrate without fireworks this Swiss National Day

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Why most of the country will celebrate without fireworks this Swiss National Day
Fireworks behind the village of Cully on the shore of Lake Geneva on Swiss National Day, August 1st 2018. Expect fireworks on New Year's Eve. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The night sky on Swiss National Day this Monday will look a little different this year in much of Switzerland. Here’s why.


Swiss National Day, which takes place on August 1st,  brings the country together around the shared love of setting bonfires ablaze while lighting up the night sky with explosions. 

In 2022 however, these traditional celebrations have been banned across much of the country. 

READ MORE: Ten brilliant ways to celebrate Swiss National Day


Why are bonfires and fireworks banned this Swiss National Day? 

Due to high temperatures and persisting drought, a number of cantons and municipalities have banned the traditional fireworks on their territory, extending the ban to open fires as well.

Among them are, to date, Graubünden, Ticino, Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Uri, Glarus, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, and Fribourg.

Certain Zurich municipalities have prohibited this practice as well, while further cantons have indicated they may also prohibit fireworks should they be unsafe. 

If your canton or commune has introduced such bans you have been notified with a flyer deposited in your mailbox.

Fines for non-compliance with this regulation range between 100 and 20,000 francs, depending on the severity of the violation and the canton or municipality where the infraction takes place.


Why is fire so important to the Swiss on August 1st?

Fire has a strong association with tradition in Switzerland – and particularly with Swiss National Day. On August 1st in the dark of the night, children from each town or village form a procession and walk through the streets carrying lit paper lanterns.

While bonfires are a clear cultural tradition, depending on who you ask there are a variety of reasons for why this has become so popular. 

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

The bonfire predates Swiss National Day – and some believe it predates Switzerland itself, with bonfires being a Christian adoption of previous midsummer traditions. 

According to Switzerland Tourism, “bonfires, mainly on hills and other elevated spots, commemorate the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the 14th century, the news of which were spread in this manner in those days.”

Germany’s Südkurier newspaper – which hails from the neighbouring state of Baden-Württemberg – sees it a little differently, writing that the tradition goes back to the 15th century, when bonfires were used to warn neighbouring towns and villages of the incursion of enemy troops. 

The Luzerner Zeitung sees it relatively similarly, saying that bonfires were the easiest means of communication and would carry a variety of messages. 

Over time, the notion of lighting fires to warn and communicate with neighbouring communities became a symbol of Swiss unity – and have retained their place to the modern day. 

When did Switzerland first celebrate its birthday?

On Sunday, August 1st, Switzerland will be 731 years old, but it didn’t actually first celebrate its birthday until 1891.

It may be that Helvetians of that time had too much on their plate creating the new state and ensuring their autonomy to throw elaborate birthday parties.

‘Sister republics’: The US Constitution’s surprising Swiss origins

Be it as it may, that first celebration was intended as a one-off event to commemorate the nation’s 600 anniversary. It was revived as an annual event in 1899 and became an official public holiday in 1994. 

The decision to make the day a holiday was made in the most Swiss way possible – a referendum. 


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