Jeune Genevois: its Meaning and the Plum Pies

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Businesses closed… and it is not Sunday: it is Jeûne genevois, an official day of fasting to remember the repression against Protestants almost 450 years ago.

The official holiday of  canton Geneva is celebrated the Thursday following the first Sunday of September. Most of the rest of Switzerland observes the holiday the Monday following the third Sunday in September. That day is known as the Jeûne fédérale.

Historian Robert Hensler says Geneva first adopted a fasting day in 1567 in remembrance of the repression against Protestants in Lyon, France, at a time when Geneva was refuge to a large number of church reformateurs. However, according to Hensler, the fast took on a new meaning after the Saint Batholomew’s Day massacre, which began the evening of 23-24 August 1572, when thousands of Huguenots or members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, also known as French Calvinists, were killed.

The slaughter began days after the King of Navarre, a Protestant, married the sister of King Charles IX of France, a Catholic. It is believed that the massacre was instigated by Catherine de’ Medici, mother of King Charles.

Days later, on 3 September, Geneva being a Protestant bastion, called for an additional day of fast in remembrance of the massacre.

The fast quickly became a patriotic holiday symbol of Protestantism in the canton. By 1640, the rest of the reformed-church cantons had adopted the fast.

In the 16th Century, one of the few meals allowed in such day was a plum pie. These days when most Geneva residents do not fast, nor are they Protestants, the plum pie or plum tart, has become de rigueur dessert.

If you didn’t get to buy yours at the supermarket or pastry shop, GenevaLunch, for whom I first wrote about the holiday, has a great recipe for the tarts.

There are no official scheduled activities for this day.

Happy day off!


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