Holidays are coming! In only a few weeks, people all over the world will be heading back home to their families, coming together with loved ones, to celebrate Christmas Eve. Despite differences in religion, believes and traditions, there is one thing which unites people all over the world: Christmas is a celebration of love, joy and gratuitous giving.
At Rohner, tradition is, beside quality and innovation, one of the key factors of our brand’s success story. So we asked ourselves if and how traditions are transferred into different parts of the world, across continents and oceans and had a closer look on how the most traditional festivity is celebrated here in Switzerland and with our friends in Australia.
Christmas celebrations in Switzerland do not differ very much from those in other western European nations and the customs in Switzerland’s different linguistic regions (German, French, and Italian) tend to resemble those of their immediate neighbours, Germany and Austria for the German-speaking part, France for the French-speaking cantons (states) and Italy for the canton of Ticino and southern valleys of the Grisons.
Advent season starts at the first of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and marks the start of the Christmas preparations. Advent calendars and crowns are both popular to count down the days until Christmas. In some villages, there are ‘real’ advent calendars with 24 houses decorating an ‘Advent Window’. On the day when it’s your house with the advent window, you hold a party for the villagers in the evening. There’s food, mulled wine (called Glühwein) and music.
For many families, a hike through the wintry forest on a quest to find and cut the perfect Christmas tree is a holiday season tradition and would in most cases be followed by a fondue. When ‘FIGUGEGL’ (fee-goo-geck-ul) is added to a christmas party invitation, you know that there will be lots of dipping, eating and having fun. ‘FIGUGEGL’ means ‘Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune’ (fondue is good and gives a good mood).
Each Christmas children receive a visit from Samichlaus – that’s Swiss German for St. Nicholas – and his black-clad henchman, Schmutzli. Visits are traditionally on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, but Switzerland’s dynamic Christmas duo can arrive at any time. Samichlaus knocks on the door, and frightened but excited kids answer. Samichlaus consults his big book of sins and asks the kids to earn a little forgiveness by reciting a poem. After this and some assurances that they will reform, Samichlaus allows the children to reach deep into his bag, which is filled with tangerines, nuts, gingerbread, and other treats.
A very special Swiss tradition is the ‚Klausjagen‘ (Nicholas chase) festival, which takes place in the town of Küssnacht also on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. The festival, attended each year by about 20,000 people, consists of a parade of around 1,500 participants, and lasts far into the night. The procession is organised in six stages. First come men cracking long two-handed sheep whips. Next come men wearing Iffelen or Infuln, which are enormous, incredibly ornate paper hats which resemble a cross between a bishop’s mitre and a stained glass window, lit from the inside by candles, and as much as seven feet tall. Behind them is St. Nicholas himself, with four attendants known as Schmutzlis, who hand out pastries. After them comes a brass band playing the traditional Klaus song, followed by a large group ringing trycheln, large bells which are descendants of cow bells. Lastly, the entire procession is followed by men blowing cow horns. Participants and watchers then generally head on to celebrations in local taverns.
Traditionally the Christmas tree is decorated on 24th by the family – a time of joyous family celebration. The tree is set up by adult members and adorned with small ornaments, candles or electric lights. Wrapped gifts, which have been brought by ‚Christkindli‘ or ‚Le petit Jesus’ – the smaller children believe – are placed underneath. Also placed at the foot of the decorated tree is sometimes a creche complete with little figures from the Nativity scene.
On Christmas Eve, a grand feast is prepared and is shared among family and friends. After dinner, the family gathers around the Christmas tree to sing Christmas songs, and exchange gifts. Most Swiss families also attend ‘Midnight Mass’ at church, after which, the families return to their homes to drink hot chocolate and share large, homemade doughnuts known as ‚ringli’.
In Australia, in comparison, Christmas falls on the beginning of the summer holidays, so Christmas is high season for campsites all over the country and mostly popular summer destinations are already booked out in October.
However the traditional Christmas tree is also central to Christmas decorations and the exteriors of many houses are decorated with hundreds of lights and displays depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Neighbours sometimes have little competitions to see who has got the best light display. Bunches of ‘Christmas Bush’, a native Australian tree with small green leaves and cream coloured flowers, are also a popular christmas decoration, which consumes less electricity too. In summer the flowers turn a deep shiny red over a period of weeks – generally by the week of Christmas.
The warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which commenced in 1937. Carols by Candlelight is held every year on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather in the city of Melbourne to sing their favorite Christmas songs. The evening is lit by as many candles singing under a clean cut night sky. Sydney and the other capital cities also enjoy Carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas. These carol services as well as huge Christmas parades are broadcasted on TV across the country.
On Christmas Eve, the children are told, Santa Claus visits houses placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Snacks and beverages (including liquor) may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit. The gifts are opened the next morning, on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day is when families and close friends gather together from all over Australia. Some families head for the backyard barbie to grill their Christmas dinner in the sunshine and many even go to the beach or to the countryside and enjoy a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing Cricket, and other outdoor activities. Even Santa Claus has been known to show up in shorts or on a surfboard to greet children at the beach!
A traditional Christmas meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows he will enjoy good luck all year round. For those who prefer to enjoy a cold Christmas feast during the hot summer day, seafood like prawns and lobster is high up on the shopping list. And the rich plum pudding would be replaced by a wonderful creamy-light Pavlova as dessert.
On Boxing Day, December 26th, most people go and visit their friends and often have barbecues at the beach. Also two major sport events traditionally commence on the day after Christmas Day in Australia: the ‚Boxing Day Test‘ cricket test match, and the ‚Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
New Year’s Eve is always a special time, with dinners, dances, and parties and then Epiphany, January 6th, will mark the end of the Christmas season with one last big party.
At Rohner, we wish you and your family a very merry Christmas – wherever and however you may celebrate this year!
If you are looking for a little Christmas present inspiration, please visit our online store. Our gift box contains one pair of ski carving socks, which will keep the feet warm all winter long. For men and women.