Food Culture and Tradition

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Special Occasions in Switzerland


More than 18 religious groups claim members in the 6.7 million Swiss population. By a slight majority, Protestants predominate.

The many festivities that dot the Swiss calendar focus on the change of seasons, the movement of the cattle, planting and harvesting, and of course religious celebrations. All have in common an abundance of good food and a colorful flurry of regional costumes. Both Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas with a variety of special cakes and cookies but no special menu; the best that is available is served with pride. In the German-speaking areas, Christmas Eve is celebrated with gilts and a candlelit tree. Customs and ceremonies in each home may be traced to either French, German, or Italian influences, together with individual family preferences.

As in the Netherlands, the Swiss have no Santa Claus, but they do set aside December 6 as the special evening when St. Nicholas brings fruits and candies and small gifts to all deserving children, and for the naughty ones only a switch! This holiday has no religious connotation and is celebrated by almost everyone.

As in many other countries, Easter is celebrated with the fresh exuberance of approaching spring: chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, special cakes and cookies – as well as the sober rejoicing accompanying church services. The many popular meatless dishes make Lent less of a hardship, and one of the traditionally favorite dishes is basler mehlsuppe. This is a typical “brown roux soup” prepared by browning flour in butter then adding water to form a stock. Often little more than a bit of seasoning is added, and in the case of the basler mehlsuppe the flavor is of bay leaf and cloves.

Celebrating the coming and passing of the seasons is a Swiss excuse for more festivities. Effigies of “Winter” are joyously burned to hasten the departure of the cold and to welcome the gentle warmth of spring. The end of summer and the beginning of autumn is heralded with animals decorated with garlands of flowers and people dressed in local or national costumes. They gather in the towns to welcome the descent of shepherds and their flocks from the high mountain pastures of summertime, happy that they will be home for winter. Later in the fall season, the wearing of golden sun masks on St. Martins Day (November 11) marks the beginning of wintry days.

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