Private: Swiss Festivals and Traditions

Celebrating Swiss Festivals: An Expat’s Cultural Guide

Switzerland is not only known for its stunning landscapes and efficient public transportation system but also for its vibrant festivals and rich cultural traditions. As an expat living in Switzerland, immersing yourself in the local festivals can be a fantastic way to experience the country's unique customs and traditions. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the major Swiss festivals and traditions and provide tips on how expats can participate and fully embrace the Swiss culture.

1. Swiss National Day

Swiss National Day, celebrated on August 1st, is one of the most important festivals in Switzerland. It commemorates the founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291 and is a day filled with patriotic pride and festivities. As an expat, you can join in the celebrations by attending the various events organized throughout the country.

One of the highlights of Swiss National Day is the fireworks display. Many cities and towns across Switzerland organize spectacular firework shows, which are a sight to behold. You can find information about the nearest fireworks display in your area and plan a picnic with friends and family to enjoy the show.

Another way to immerse yourself in the Swiss culture on National Day is by participating in the traditional bonfires. Many communities light bonfires in the evening, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Joining in the bonfire festivities is a great opportunity to meet locals and learn more about their customs and traditions.

2. Fête de l'Escalade

Fête de l'Escalade is a historic festival celebrated in Geneva every December. It commemorates the failed attack by the Duke of Savoy on the city in 1602. The festival is marked by various events and activities, including parades, historical reenactments, and traditional food and drink.

As an expat, you can participate in the festivities by joining the parade dressed in traditional costumes. Many local shops offer rentals for traditional attire, allowing you to fully embrace the spirit of the festival. Don't forget to try the famous "marmite," a vegetable soup served during Fête de l'Escalade, and indulge in the delicious chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan vegetables.

Attending the historical reenactments is another way to immerse yourself in the festival. Witnessing the battle scenes and listening to the stories of the brave Genevans who defended their city will give you a deeper understanding of the local history and culture.

3. Basel Carnival

The Basel Carnival, known as Fasnacht, is one of the largest and most famous carnivals in Switzerland. It takes place in the city of Basel and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. The carnival starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and lasts for three days.

As an expat, you can join in the carnival by wearing a traditional carnival mask and costume. The streets of Basel come alive with colorful parades, music, and dancing during Fasnacht. Participating in the parades and joining the revelers will allow you to experience the contagious energy and joy of the carnival.

Don't miss the Morgestraich, the official start of the Basel Carnival. At precisely 4 a.m., all the lights in the city are turned off, and the streets are illuminated only by the lanterns carried by the participants. The atmosphere during Morgestraich is truly magical and something you shouldn't miss as an expat in Switzerland.

4. Sechseläuten

Sechseläuten is a traditional spring festival celebrated in Zurich on the third Monday of April. The highlight of the festival is the burning of the Böögg, a snowman-shaped figure filled with explosives. The time it takes for the Böögg's head to explode is believed to predict the weather for the upcoming summer.

As an expat, you can witness the procession of the guilds, where members of various guilds in traditional costumes march through the streets of Zurich. The atmosphere is lively and festive, with music, dancing, and colorful decorations. Joining the locals in cheering for your favorite guild is a great way to feel part of the community.

After the procession, head to the Sechseläutenplatz to witness the burning of the Böögg. The faster the head explodes, the better the weather is expected to be. It's a unique and exciting tradition that will leave you with lasting memories of your time in Switzerland.

5. Christmas Markets

Switzerland is renowned for its enchanting Christmas markets, which are a must-visit during the holiday season. These markets offer a magical atmosphere with beautifully decorated stalls selling handmade crafts, delicious food, and warm drinks.

As an expat, visiting the Christmas markets is a wonderful way to experience Swiss traditions and immerse yourself in the festive spirit. Explore the various markets in cities like Zurich, Basel, and Lucerne, and indulge in Swiss specialties such as raclette, fondue, and mulled wine.

Don't forget to pick up some unique Swiss Christmas ornaments and gifts for your loved ones back home. The markets also often feature live performances, including carol singers and musicians, adding to the joyful ambiance.


Switzerland's festivals and traditions offer expats a fantastic opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and create lasting memories. Whether it's celebrating Swiss National Day, participating in Fête de l'Escalade, joining the Basel Carnival, witnessing the burning of the Böögg during Sechseläuten, or exploring the enchanting Christmas markets, there are plenty of ways for expats to embrace the Swiss customs and traditions.

By actively participating in these festivals, you'll not only gain a deeper understanding of Swiss culture but also forge connections with the local community. So, mark your calendars, dress up in traditional attire, and get ready to celebrate Swiss festivals like a true local!