Advent in Switzerland: Räbelichtli, Advent wreath, Christmas markets and Christmas lights
For this Australian, Switzerland at Christmas time is what childhood dreams are made of, full of traditions, twinkly christmas lights and snow (well, hopefully)!
Christmas in Australia couldn’t be more different, with most of the celebrations taking place outside with fresh seafood in the middle of a hot and humid summer. I think deep down, most Australians wish to experience at least one white christmas, and I for sure was one of them.
I remember the first time I saw it snow here in Switzerland 16 years ago. When I peeked outside and saw the white stuff floating to the ground my first instinct was to call my Mum forgetting it was 2am in Australia.
I still get excited when the first snow falls (we are still waiting it to make it to the lower elevations) but I also just enjoy the holiday season here without snow. I love that the weeks leading up to the big day are filled with little traditions. They truly make Christmas a season rather than just two days in December.
For our family, the start of the holiday season already begins in November with the Räbelichtli Umzug (Lantern Parade). The littlest children in our village carve lanterns out of turnips (Räbeli) and the older ones spend the art classes leading up to the parade making all types of colorful lanterns made of various materials. The town turns off all of the street lights and the children then parade through the dark streets on this evening in the middle of November singing songs. I’ve had at least one kid in this parade consistently for the past 10 years, and little Z is now taking over the tradition for the older two.
There are many little later parades throughout the German speaking part of Switzerland during the middle of November but the most famous one is in the village of Richterswil. We have never been to this ourselves but fellow blogger Kate has. Check out her article all about it here.
Missed the parade and want to carve your own? Check out this video on how to do it!
We celebrate the advent seasons beginning with a traditional Advent Wreath (Adventkranz). Advents are found everywhere in the time leading up to the beginning of Advent at supermarkets, florists and farmers markets, but some people make their own. As of last year, I’m relieved that our eldest has taken over the roll of making the Advent wreath. Having a specific candle to light each day turns those dark days of December into days filled with wonder and excitement for our whole family as we wait for Christmas to come.
As a family we take always take the time to visit a Christmas Market at some point in December. Our family favourite is the Einsiedeln Christmas Market which takes place over 10 days at the beginning of December. The ever impressive Einsiedeln Abby is the backdrop and I find the best time of day to visit is in the evening where the fairy lights make it that much more magical.
To be honest, I go to Christmas markets for the food and the atmosphere and this market has both. Another great market is the Zurich Weihnachtsdorf our the front of the Opera House. The food options at this market are so varied and authentic, and there is even a ice skating rink in the middle of the market.
Most areas of Switzerland have a Christmas market of some kind at some point during the season - consult the Swiss Tourism website for more ideas.
Before December 1st rolls around, we've already decorated (in a minimalist fashion) for the season including the outdoor lighting. We have placed our lights placed so we can make sure we can see them from our living room, which creates a very cosy atmosphere during the dark days of December - and one set of lights can double for two spaces.
Confession Time: We actually never take our Christmas lights down, just turn them off! No one notices that they are there during the year and redecorating outside each year consists of just plugging them in! Best Christmas hack, ever.
Not only do we put up lights of our own, but villages, towns and cities all around Switzerland start to put up their lights too. It for sure makes the dark drive home in winter a lot more enjoyable.
Zürich makes a special event out of turning on their Christmas lights, affectionately named "Lucy". In 2017 the lights turn on the 23. November at 6pm sharp, marking the start of the festive season in the city.
How do begin the holiday season where you live? What are your family traditions that have become part and parcel with your own personal Christmas tradition? Do you celebrate other holidays during the winter season?
Check out Part 2 of this series here.