Geneva For Members

Why does Geneva have a public holiday on Thursday?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why does Geneva have a public holiday on Thursday?
Plum tart is part of Geneva's fast. Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Geneva is the only canton in Switzerland that has a public holiday on the Thursday after the first Sunday in September.


Switzerland’s official Thanksgiving Day is called Eidgenössischer Dank-, Buss- und Bettag in German, Jeûne federal in French, Digiuno federale in Italian, and Rogaziun federala in Romansh.

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland's 'Thanksgiving' day in September?
All cantons except one will mark this holiday on September 17th — 10 days after the lone standout, Geneva, has its own version of this public holiday.

Called Jeûne genevois, it is set for the Thursday following the first Sunday in September, which this year will fall on September 7th.

What are Geneva residents remembering on this day?

If ‘celebration’ conjures images of joyful festivities, then it is not an appropriate word to describe what Jeûne genevois is all about, as it commemorates sad events.

To understand the historical context of this holiday, we must go back to 1567, when Geneva’s population was urged by church authorities to fast in support of Protestants who were being repressed by Catholics in the French city of Lyon.

Geneva became officially protestant 31 years prior, so it is no wonder its sympathies were with those who were being persecuted for their faith.

Lyon lies about 150 km from Geneva but in those days, lines (and borders) between what was then France and Switzerland were blurred, and loyalties shifted as wars were won and lost.

 According to Geneva’s historic account, “from 1640, fasting was perceived as a moral and religious act and became practically annual.This was an act of humility and solidarity towards the most deprived."

Genevans continued the annual fast throughout the centuries, but on August 1st, 1966, Jeûne genevois (jeûne meaning ‘fast’ in French) became an official public holiday in the canton.


How is this holiday commemorated?
The fast could include only one meal which, for convenience, was prepared the day prior to fasting.

This is how the plum tart has become a symbol of Jeûne genevois.

Plums are abundant in Switzerland in the month of September, so a tart made using this local fruit it was a logical choice.

If you would like to prepare a plum tart just like Genevans have done for centuries, this recipe comes from a reliable source: the city of Geneva itself:

  • Dissolve 9 grams of salt in 90 grams of water;
  • Mix 100 grams of wholemeal flour, 200 grams of white flour with 150 grams of butter. Add salted water and knead lightly;
  • Let the dough rest for 30 minutes in the fridge;
  • Roll out the dough;
  • Place 50 grams of ground hazelnuts (or almonds) mixed with 10 grams of flour at the bottom of the pie;
  • Cut 1200 grams of prunes in half and place them on the pie shell. If you have too many prunes, you can cut them in half and freeze them for a next pie;
  • Bake for about 1 hour at 180 °C, until the pastry is golden brown.




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