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

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

Fireworks are seen behind the village of Cully on the shore of Lake Geneva during the commemoration of Swiss National Day, on August 1, 2018. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Fireworks are seen behind the village of Cully on the shore of Lake Geneva during the commemoration of Swiss National Day, on August 1, 2018. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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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Climate change transforming Switzerland ‘into Tuscany’, scientists warn

Rising temperatures in Switzerland caused by climate change are gradually transforming the famous Alpine scenery so it looks more like the dryer region of Tuscany, an environmental group has warned.

Climate change transforming Switzerland 'into Tuscany', scientists warn

Global warming is leading to a “tuscanisation” of Switzerland’s landscape, the Swiss Foundation for the Protection and Management of Landscape (Sl-Fp) warned on Monday.

And the transformation could have major consequences on the country’s tourism industry.

The increasing number of heatwaves and dry periods over the past twenty years in Switzerland have already had a big impact on the landscape.

On Monday the foundation warned that as these episodes increase, the colour of the Swiss landscape will visibly change due to the reduction in the amount of water feeding the landscapes.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

It warned that “the romantic ideal of a ‘green’ and water-rich Switzerland seems to be undergoing a lasting transformation”.

They dominant colour of green will be replaced by lighter shades of yellow and brown that are reminiscent of the dry landscapes of the Tuscan valleys, the foundation wrote in a press release.

It also warned that at higher levels the retreat of glaciers and drop in the volume of water means the moraines high up in the mountains will vegetate at a much slower rate, meaning the Swiss mountains will be less green.

Natural streams and waterfalls are also drying up, a situation seen in Italy, in the Piedmontese and Ligurian Alps, notes the foundation.

READ ALSO: ‘An impossible dream’: Will we come to dread Swiss summer in future?

According to the foundation, increasing water loss and warmer temperatures have an impact on biodiversity and reduce landscape variety.

The changing landscape will also reduces the recreational value of the mountains and therefore hit the tourism industry hard, it warned.

A 2014 report by scientists that looked at the tangible ways the climate crisis will change Switzerland said that whilst melting glaciers was the most talked about change there are other ways the country will be affected.

“Agriculture will face increased heat stress for livestock, and tree species distribution will change. The tourist industry will have to cope with shorter ski seasons  and the urban population will be exposed to more heat days,” the report said.