GENEVA, Switzerland — What do the Swiss celebrate on 1 August each year? Get your handy notepad ready because the answer is like a delightfully complicated Swiss watch movement.
On 1 August 2017, the Swiss celebrate 726 years of togetherness.
History, and a document found in 1758, confirm that it all began a day in early August 1291.
These rules for the common good shall endure forever.
The oath was reportedly undertaken in a pristine meadow, the Grütli. Hence the Agreement is sometimes referred to as the Grütli Oath.
The 1291 oath paved the way, 557-year looong way, to what would become the Swiss Confederation in 1848.
It would take 43 more years, before the Swiss celebrated the Signing/Oath for the first time.
The Swiss formally celebrated the anniversary of the Grütli Oath for the first time in 1891 (but not on 1 August). It was only eight year later, in 1899, when 1 August was proclaimed the National Day of the Helvetic Confederation.
True to Swiss direct democracy, it took a public referendum 103 years later (or 1994), before 1 August became a recognised federal holiday.
[Official Swiss historians claim that the 1291 agreement was largely symbolic, and that what really brought together the Confederation was the Federal Charter of 1315 (Pact of Brunnen). The 1291 agreement, they argue, is Switzerland’s oldest constitutional document and has helped cement national cohesion.]
How is Swiss National Day celebrated?
National Day usually involves a parade of mostly children carrying paper lanterns, a bonfire, music, cowbell ringing, speeches, the Swiss national anthem – for which new lyrics have been proposed and no one knows them yet – and fireworks.
The celebration in Alpine towns also include typical Swiss folk activities such as flag throwing, yodelling and wrestling. Recently, some communes in canton Geneva have begun to include these typical activities in their lineups (see below to find which ones and go see them).
For the past 25 years, a number of farms across the country (including four or five in canton Geneva and more than a dozen in canton Vaud) have opened their doors to the public offering a Swiss brunch for about CHF35 (free or discounted for kids). Find all the farms that offer 1 August brunch here.
It is also customary that the Swiss President participates in a celebration at the Grütli Meadow. Tickets for this celebration are free but their distribution closes a week early. Another huge celebration in Switzerland takes place in Zurich.
Where to celebrate Swiss National Day in canton Geneva?
City of Geneva – The canton’s capital hosts the largest fireworks and bonfire along with concerts and kids activities.
Every year the city picks a “theme”, a “sister city” or “sister nation” to commemorate in parallel. In 2017, the city celebrates the country of Benin, hosting activities in La Grange Park including a bonfire, fireworks and a free midnight concert with Afro-pop music. Check out the programme in full. Also, click here for information on the flag throwing event in the afternoon. Note: This year there are no “official fireworks” in La Grange Park, but plenty of surrounding towns offer feu d’artifice, see list below.
Find other celebrations around the canton and Happy Swiss National Day!
Aire-la-ville begins celebrations at 19:00 until midnight. Bonfire, fireworks and music.
Avully hosts a torchlight parade beginning at 19:00, fireworks by 22:00 and dancing.
Avusy will be serving the traditional soup beginning at 18:30, a torchlight parade, bonfire and fireworks also in the menu.
Bardonnex hosts a small celebration at Compesières on 31 July.
Bellevue and Genthod begin celebrations at 18:00 including a lantern parade, bonfire and dancing in Bellevue.
Bernex hosts a dance, a torchlight parade, church bell ringing and bonfire beginning at 19:00, followed by a concert.
Carouge hosts a lantern procession, wrestling matches, music, bonfire and a disco beginning at 17:00.
Cartigny begins celebrations at 18:30.
Celigny celebrates at the beach beginning at 18:30.
Chancy invites everyone to the Salle Communale beginning at 18:30 for soup, dancing, bonfire, a parade, fireworks and dancing until 2:00 the next day.
Chene-Bougeries, Chene-Bourg and Thonex merge efforts to host activities. The day begins with a massive barbecue. Music, food, dancing, lantern parade and bonfire until 1:00 the next day.
Choulex from 30 July to 1 August – on Swiss National Day, dinner begins at 19:00. Activities include ringing of bells, a lantern parade, bonfire and dancing.
Collex-Bossy invites kids to make lanterns for the procession. Parade, bonfire and dancing until the next day.
Collonge-Bellerive is hosting celebrations by the beach starting at 18:00 with brass bad concerts, wakeboard exhibit, bonfire, fireworks and dancing.
Cologny – the exclusive Geneva suburb offers a serving of barbecue and free pastries, lantern and torch-light parade, bonfire and fireworks.
Confignon – the evening begins with the ringing of the bells, a torchlight procession, bonfire, fireworks and concludes with dancing.
Corsier residents are invited to the municipal castle starting at 11:00 for brunch. Celebrations end by 17:00.
Dardagny and Russin – Celebrate together, this time in Dardagny for a full fête until late at night.
Grand-Saconnex invite residents to the castle grounds where the traditional soup will be served starting at 18:00. Bonfire, music and fireworks until 1:00.
Gy — is not offering any celebrations this year.
Hermance invites everyone to meet at 18:00 by the beach for soup, followed by a parade through the quaint village, bonfire and dancing until 2:00.
Jussy begins festivities at 8:00 until 14:00 followed by soup at 18:00, ringing of the bells, bonfire and dancing until the next day.
Laconnex and Soral welcome residents to their idyllic bit of Geneva country. Festivities begin at 18:00 and include a bonfire, fireworks and dancing.
Lancy holds a ton of kids activities, will serve soup and offer a bonfire. Fireworks begin at 22:00.
Lignon: see below under Vernier
Meinier: Fun begins at 18:00 with food and music.
Meyrin welcomes everyone at 18:00. This year’s celebration includes parades, bonfire and fireworks topped by dancing until the next day.
Onex begins celebrations at 19:00 with soup, kids games, bell ringing, lantern procession, bonfire and closes the eve with dancing.
Perly-Certoux will celebrate with food, kids activities, fireworks, lantern parade and bonfire until 2:00 the next day.
Plan-les-ouates the outdoor celebrations begin at 18:00 and last until midnight.
Pregny-Chambesy celebrates until 2:00 the next day.
Presinge begins celebrations at 19:00, including parade, bonfire and food.
Puplinge residents are called to meet at the Moutonnerie starting at 19:00 for music, soup, dancing, bonfire and dancing until midnight.
Satigny — nothing posted for 2017.
Troinex invites everyone to bring lanterns and participate in its parade, partake of the soup, music, bonfire and traditional dancing. They have also posted the lyrics of the national anthem so you can sing along.
Vandoeuvres kicks things off with traditional flag throwing, yodelling and some good old cow bell ringing! Talk about tradition. After the lantern parade the eve ends with a bonfire.
Vernier – which includes the villes de Lignon and Aire invite everyone at 18:30 to partake in soup, watch typical Swiss wrestling matches, partake in the lantern parade, fireworks and bonfire followed by dancing.
Versoix hosts a two-day affair, beginning with its traditional guinguette or outdoor, communal gathering starting at 18:00 on 31 July by the lake, followed by lantern processions, music, fireworks, bonfire and dancing under the stars on 1 August. Whew!
Veyrier welcomes everyone starting at 18:30 at the Ecole du Grand-Saleve with food, kids activities, folk dancing, ringing of bells and later at the Place de l’Eglise with a bonfire, fireworks and dancing.