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How the Swiss Celebrate 1st of August

Swiss Flag - berggeist007  /
Yesterday, on the 1st of August 2011, Switzerland celebrated its 720th anniversary! The celebrations included many fireworks and even more cook outs and they inspired me to look into the history of Switzerland and it's 1st of August celebrations. Here are some of my findings.

10 Facts about Swiss 1st of August Celebrations

  1. Traditionally, it is assumed that Switzerland was founded on August 1st in 1291 but the true birth date of Switzerland is unknown. Think about it for a moment. Switzerland is so much older than the US or France that both gained independence in the end of the 18th century.
  2. The first 'version' of Switzerland included only three of todays 26 cantons: Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden. They took an oath to cooperate and assist each other in the quest for political autonomy from the Austrio-German Habsburgian rulers. This oath allegedly took place on the R├╝tliwiese, a grassy hill on the shores of Lake of Lucerne.  Friedrich Schiller, the famous German writer, portrayed this oath in his drama 'William Tell'. 
  3. This Swiss national hero William Tell who, according to tradition, played a crucial part in gaining independence from the Habsburgian rulers and had legendary rub-off with duke Gessler, probably never existed. Nevertheless, he can still be seen with his famous crossbow on the Swiss 5 Francs coin today.
  4. The 1st of August became an official national holiday in 1891 and has been called Schweizer Nationalfeiertag which means 'Day of Celebration of the Swiss Nation'. Unlike in other countries the main national holiday in Switzerland is not called independence day or liberty day.
  5. Starting in 1942 it has become tradition that the highest Swiss politician, the president of the Swiss Federacy, addresses the Swiss people in a speech on 1st of August. This speech is usually televised and broadcasted on radio. The first of those speeches came out of the need to strengthen, unite and encourage the Swiss people during World War II.
  6. As soon as it gets dark everyone and especially the children light their lampions (paper lanterns with colorful patterns) to light up the night. In some places, Children participate in lampion processions.
  7. During the evening and night you can also see many bonfires on the mountain ridges. These are called Augustfeuer which means 'fires of August' and are quite neat to look at.
  8. At exactly 8 pm all church tower bells ring for 15 minutes all over Switzerland. I haven't found out why but it sure is an experience to hear so many bells ring.
  9. In some cities (e.g. Biel and Basel) 1st of August celebrations start already on July 31st.
  10. Of course, there is also a lot of firework, good food and happy get-togethers all over the country. Some  people eat traditional Swiss food like cheese fondue or raclette and others sing the national anthem. Every place and family has its own traditions and festivities and at least one day a year the Swiss are a bit patriotic!



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