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Swiss traditions For Members

Precise timing: How to celebrate New Year's Eve like the Swiss

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Precise timing: How to celebrate New Year's Eve like the Swiss
Celebrate New Year's Eve like the Swiss. Photo by Abhinav Sharma from Pexels.

New Year's Eve in Switzerland is not just about popping corks at midnight and shouting Frohes neues Jahr, Bonne année or Buon Anno. This is how the Swiss party — and how you can too.

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While some New Year traditions may vary depending on the linguistic region, others are the same throughout Switzerland.

But before we delve into how New Year is celebrated now, know that in the days gone by this holiday was not associated with fun — on the contrary: people believed that the door to the underworld was wide open during the 12 nights between Christmas and Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany) on January 6th.

They were called the “rough nights” — and not because of all the drinking and partying.

Rather, it was believed that during those 12 nights “evil spirits and the souls of the dead could rise into our world and fly around the night sky, spreading fear and terror", according to the government-sponsored site, The House of Switzerland.

“The fireworks we still use today are a reminder of how noise and fire were used to keep ghosts and goblins far away.”

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This was then, but what about now?

In some areas of Switzerland, the fear of demons and other scary creatures is still remembered and commemorated on New Year’s Eve.

People in St. Gallen light bonfires at night to chase away evil spirits, in Laupen (Bern) they sweep them with brooms, in Appenzell they are driven away with smoke, and in Wald (Zurich), the ringing of the bells is supposed to scare them away.

Bonfires are supposed to scare evil spirits. Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Nowadays, however, New Year’s Eve is a much happier event, when friends and family have fun imbibing spirits rather than chasing them away.

From oysters to fondue: this what’s on New Year’s menu

Even though there has been mounting opposition from animal welfare groups and some politicians over cruel practices of force-feeding geese and ducks, anecdotal evidence indicates that a lot of foie gras is consumed in Switzerland on that night, with French speakers also having a special fondness for oysters.

All linguistic groups are also fond of fondue, both the traditional cheese one, and the so-called “Chinese one.” The latter consists of thinly sliced raw meat cooked in hot vegetable broth.

The Swiss love fondues on New Year's Eve. Image by Andi Graf from Pixabay 

What do the Swiss drink?

Champagne, of course. This is one of the rare occasions when the Swiss concede that a French product is actually superior to their own — perhaps because Switzerland doesn’t produce it.

In an odd twist of events, the village of Champagne, in canton Vaud, was banned from using this appellation on its own sparkling white wine. In 1998, a decade before Switzerland joined the Schengen zone, its government worked out a deal with the European Union that if the national airline, then called Swissair, would be allowed to make stopovers in the EU cities, the (Swiss) Champagners would cede the name to the more famous French bubbly.

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What if you would rather celebrate the New Year’s outdoors?

No worries, you can do so in Switzerland’s largest cities:

Zurich

If you’re looking to save a buck, the Silvesterzauber open folk festival is a great way to ring in 2024.

The festival, which attracts over 150,000 festivalgoers, will feature a traditional firework display in Zurich’s city centre in addition to a range of food stalls, bars, and music around the lake basin. Entry to the festival is free.

For those looking to kickstart the new year with a touch of sustainability, you can register with the festival at [email protected] and help make it environmentally friendlier by lending your recycling skills.

READ MORE: How to celebrate New Year's Eve in Zurich 2023

Geneva

There is a huge bash planned on the Quai du Mont-Blanc by the lake on December 31st from 8 pm to 3 am.

On the programme: Live concerts including many other local artists, three bars, 15 food trucks, and, of course,  fireworks.

In terms of music, there will be something for nearly all tastes, including reggaetón, techno, and electronic.

Basel

Unfortunately, the traditional fireworks over the Rhine have once again been cancelled, but you can still enjoy the thoughtful church service in the Basel Münster Cathedral, if that’s your thing.

Here too the timing is meticulous, so don’t be late (or you’ll find yourself in 2024 without any music) — 11.30 pm: tower music; the Basel Stadtposaunenchor, ringing out the old year, singing together; 12.15 am: church service.

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