The 1st of August is the most important day in the calendars of the Swiss people. It has four names in four official languages: Bundesfeiertag in German, Jour de la fête nationale in French, Giorno della festa nazionale in Italian and Di da la festa naziunala in Romanish. It’s the day when the Swiss celebrate the joy of being a part of this incredible country. It’s Swiss National Day! Where does the tradition come from and why was this very day selected for a national holiday? Let’s see!
According to the legend, the Swiss Confederation was founded on the 1st of August of 1291 on a picturesque meadow in the centre of the country. It was here where the representatives of three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden swore the sacred oath to one another. They signed a document which started with the words «In the name of God» and promised mutual help with fighting enemies. That’s how the Union of three cantons was born and with years it grew into 26 cantons that form Switzerland today. By the way, the word “oath” in German is Eid and the full name of the Swiss Confederation is Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft so it can literally be translated as Swiss Oath Association.
It may seem weird but for the long time the National Swiss Day was a working day in most of the cantons. We can all envy how hard-working the Swiss people are! Only in 1993, when a referendum was held and most of the people supported the idea, the 1st of August officially became a non-working day in the whole Alpine Republic.
However, even though Switzerland is one country, the 1st of August is celebrated mostly on the cantonal level. Moreover, each canton has its own strong traditions so there are many different ways of celebrating this huge day across Switzerland. For example, since the middle of the 19th century the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen has been illuminated for the National Day. Ever wanted to see the parliament life from the inside? The Swiss Parliament building in Bern has an open day on August 1st! A massive celebration also takes place at the historic location of Rütli Meadow in the canton of Uri where the legendary oath was pronounced. People of Basel start celebrating in advance: in the evening of July 31st they launch breathtakingly beautiful fireworks at the Rhine River.
Fireworks and bonfires, commemorating the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the 14th century, are the common part of celebration for all cantons. Apart from that, on the 1st of August the streets dazzle with the national, cantonal and community flags, the national anthem is sung, politicians give rousing speeches, the church bells ring, the Swiss dress up in fancy traditional costumes and walk on the streets with paper lanterns. Swiss bakeries even produce special bread with small Swiss flags on top!
People of Switzerland love their national holiday and never miss a chance to celebrate it as loudly and happily as possible, with fireworks, music, parades and performances. After all, the last phrase from the oath proclaims: «This order must, at the behest of God, go on forever».
Welcome to Fantastic Switzerland – fantastic since 1291!