Swiss traditions For Members

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

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
Precise timing: How to celebrate New Year's Eve like the Swiss
Ring in the New Year with French champagne. Photo: on 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.


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.”


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.


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

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


People gather to hear the annual ringing of the Grossmünster bells and watch the fireworks display over Lake Zurich afterwards.

And the Swiss knack for punctuality and meticulous organisation is at play here: according to the city’s official site, the ringing of the church bells will take place precisely from 11.40pm to 11.58pm, followed by lights out at 12.19am, and fireworks at 12.20 am until 12.35am. 


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 of the Geneva rapper Chilla and many other local artists, a karaoke tent with a giant screen, three bars, 12 food trucks, and, of course,  fireworks.

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


Unfortunately, the traditional fireworks over the Rhine were cancelled, but you can still enjoy the 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 2023 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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