A day of celebration: Swiss National Day
What is Swiss National Day?
Swiss National Day falls annually on the 1st of August, marking the approximate date that the Federal Charter of 1291 was said to have been signed. This ancient constitutional milestone represents an important alliance between three historical Alpine cantons (Unterwald, Uri and Schwyz), and helped pave the way for the eventual formation of the Old Swiss Confederacy.
Constitutionally speaking, today’s Switzerland has been formalised as the Swiss Federal State since 1848. However, the old Federal Charter accord is still viewed as a historic keystone in the nation’s eventual political establishment. As such, the Swiss National Day celebration on August 1st is widely observed across all regions of the country and has been marked as an official holiday since 1994.
What do they do on Swiss National Day?
A key part of the celebrations for Swiss National Day tend to focus on family, friends, and fire - in other words, gathering together to enjoy evening bonfires and firework displays. In this regard, typical Swiss National Day festivities are broadly similar to those you’d see on Guy Fawkes’ Night (November 5th) in the UK, or the US Independence Day celebrations of July 4th.
In the days leading up to the official celebration night, it’s traditional to go firewood-gathering. Many individual homes - and, of course, most municipalities - will gradually assemble large pyres over the preceding week, ready to mark the occasion as night falls on August 1st. These are often constructed on hills or areas of higher ground, for added impact and visibility.
In addition to bonfires and fireworks, Swiss National Day celebrations also focus on a broad range of traditional folk activities. Depending on where you’re staying, this can include folk storytelling, acrobatic flag throwing, and choir singing. Wherever you roam on the day, you’re almost certain to hear numerous renditions of the Swiss Psalm national anthem, aka the ‘Schweizerpsalm’ (German), ‘Cantique Suisse’ (French), ‘Salmo Svizzero’ (Italian), or ‘Psalm Svizzer’ (Romansh).
Buildings both large and small are often festooned with all manner of dressings and bunting, largely in Switzerland’s bold national colours of red and white. It’s also common practice for children to carry illuminated paper lanterns through the streets, among many other types of parades and public gatherings. Traditional bread-making is another very common pastime marking Swiss National Day - the familiar, rounded Augustweggen loaves are fairly ubiquitous at this time of year, instantly recognisable thanks to their decorative paper flag adornments and large Swiss crosses sliced into the top before baking.
Alpine celebrations for Swiss National Day
Since the 1291 alliance marked an alliance between three historic Alpine cantons, it’s no surprise that the myriad ski resorts and bustling visitor hubs scattered throughout those world-famous peaks and valleys are especially proud to observe Swiss National Day each year. In particular, the Lake Lucerne region hosts a well-attended representative jubilee, echoing the original signing of the accord on nearby Rütli Meadow.
Elsewhere, top Alpine destinations like Zermatt, Verbier and Crans-Montana each celebrate with various traditional and folk festivities, with hundreds of chalets, shops, restaurants and apres-ski hotspots adorned in the bright colours of many national, cantonal and community banners. As you’d expect, once the fireworks are over, many mountainside towns and resorts enjoy a range of energetic celebrations and parties that often go on long into the night.