Little hands everywhere eagerly await the month of December to open the first of 24 paper windows on their Advent calendars. Revealing winter scenes one day at a time until Christmas Eve, when Christmas is traditionally celebrated in Switzerland, the children practice patience.
Of course, calendars can also be hand-made. We used to open fresh walnuts carefully into halves, eat the nuts and paint the shell golden, then hide little treasures inside before glueing them onto a wide velvety ribbon for the children to break off, one a day.
Sometimes in rural areas, windows are charmingly decorated as advent calendars and in the city, entire house fronts become a calendar.
Advent is the period beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve, and is historically seen as the preparation of the arrival of Christ. Beautifully decorated table wreaths with four pillar candles, traditionally in red or white, grace the dining room or kitchen table of many families throughout Switzerland.
On each of the four Sundays, one more candle is lit while the family gathers around for a meal, home baked good, playing games or telling stories.
Advent wreaths are also found in restaurants, hotels, public buildings and magnificent ones in churches.
Saint Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
On December 6, St. Nicholas makes his appearance on foot, sometimes with his donkey and accompanied by Schmutzli, his dark clothed companion, who carries a cane and the jute bag of presents on his back. Children recite a verse or sing a song to Samichlaus and receive mandarins, oranges, nuts and cookies on the promise to be good next year.
Christmas lighting and Christmas markets
Set against the fantastic backdrop of the imposing Benedictine monastery and sprawling along the length of the main street, the Christmas market in Einsiedeln is well worth a visit, as are so many other ones in small and large towns.
At the end of November, Christmas lighting, huge trees and shop window decorations appear. From very elaborate to beautifully simple, across cities and in rural areas.
With the Christmas markets, chestnut stalls pop up. The charming Christmas circus pitches its tent in downtown Zürich, Locarno’s cobble stones town square turns into an illuminated ice rink and the steam wheelers take up their Christmas runs on Swiss lakes.
Concert halls and churches are vibrant with Holiday productions of all kinds from folklore to classical to choirs and solo performers.
Medieval Christmas celebrations at the 1,000 year old Château de Chillon; the much beloved Zäller Wiehnacht – a musical rendition of the Christmas story by Paul Burkhard – performed by 100 children; or a mystical walk through the magic forest in Lenzerheide are only a few examples of many creative events.