When we moved to Switzerland two months before Christmas, of course, it was my great concern if I could keep our Christmas traditions here. I was afraid that we would be under the Santa Claus attack here and just that everything would be quite different from what we were used to. But I was pleased to find that Switzerland is not so culturally distant from our home country and I could relax. So how do we celebrate Christmas in Switzerland?
Pre-Christmas time in Switzerland
Just like everywhere else in the world, even here in Switzerland shops have been bursting at the seams since October offering all the Christmas goods. Decoration, more decorations, chocolate figurines, and, oddly enough, gingerbreads! Like, I mean, gingerbreads with St.Nicholas as we know them! OK, they are not filled with jam and coated in chocolate like back home, but that doesn’t bother me at all.
An inseparable part of Christmas time is also a visit to Advent/Christmas markets. This year I felt like a king when I had already visited three Christmas markets on December 6 😀
St. Nicolas Day
As you may have noticed on my blog and my Instagram, Saint Nicholas is celebrated in Switzerland as well, on December 6th. The local St, Nicholas is called “Samichlaus” or “Samichlous” and is accompanied by Schmutzli (German: schmutzig = dirty) and a donkey.
But in order to make the waiting for Nicholas a bit more pleasant, we have adopted the local tradition that on December 5th evening, children put their shoes in front of the house (or balcony) door and where St. Nicolas brings a small a bag of treats. Perhaps you can imagine the glimpse in the eyes of our boys when their winter boots arrived in the afternoon the 5th. Well, because, the bigger the shoes, the more space for goodies, right? 😉
As I wrote in my last post, Grittibänz, the boy figures made from an enriched yeast dough, which is eaten for breakfast or dinner on St. Nicholas Day, goes along with Samichlaus Day. And because I like baking and our family is a bit addicted to sweet and pastry, baking Grittibänze has found its place in our family traditions.
And when I mentioned baking… in Switzerland, they also know Christmas cookies, and they are even very similar to ours: Linz (only without nuts), vanilla kipferli, anise rolls, bear paws, gingerbread… And I like to add Zimtsterne and Mailanderli to my cookie repertoire.
In the German-speaking Protestant part of Switzerland where we live, Christmas Eve is a normal working day. It even happened that when Christmas Eve fell on Friday, the children normally went to school and the Christmas holidays did not begin until Saturday. But we apologized to our boys and fortunately, nobody had a problem with that.
Besides preparing the Christmas dinner, watching Czech Christmas fairy tales and movies and taking a traditional walk in the afternoon, our schedule includes packing and preparing for the long trip. Somehow I can’t imagine Christmas Eve without the suitcases I constantly trip over in our apartment 😉
After dinner, the children go to clean up their room (which I always have to subtly disassemble because they know this game and they have been perfectly tidy since the afternoon), I go there with them and together we clean up and… Baby Jesus will bring presents under the Christmas tree! I am very glad that Weihnachtsmann or Santa Claus did not steal our traditions because even here in Switzerland children get gifts from “Baby Jesus” or “Christkind”.
Our Christmas Eve rituals also include the fact that children go to bed not in their pajamas, but in their T-shirts, just half ready for the journey. Between 2 am and 3 am we set out on a trip to our home country, where we come either to my husband or my parents for a Christmas lunch. And then the merry-go-round starts opening presents, visiting relatives and friends, overeating… well, everything that belongs to Christmas, what we all swear at, but we are happy that we have anyone to visit and with whom to enjoy.
After Christmas time
After the New Year, mostly on the second or third of January, we are returning to Switzerland, still enjoying our tree and home comfort. In this post-Christmas time, we have adopted another tradition, the Three Kings Cake (and again for sweet and baking). Dreikönigskuchen is sweet rolls of yeast dough baked together, one of which hides a small plastic figurine of the king. Anyone who finds it, or does not manage to suffocate with it, can put on his head a paper crown (which is usually attached to the purchased cakes) and the rest of the day is not affected by any household chores.
One more note at the end: Two years ago we spent Christmas, including Christmas Eve, in the Czech republic. At first, the children were very excited to spend Christmas Eve with Grandma and Grandpa, but after a few days, they asked me several times if we could have Christmas at home next year. At home, so in Switzerland. And so we celebrate our Czech Christmas at home in Switzerland.