4440 miles from home

holy days in the mountain country compared to the U.S.


Max Blessing

Many holidays are similar in both the U.S. and Switzerland: a Christmas tree is nothing new for Blessing.

As the U.S. holiday season begins, I would like to compare my experiences with the holidays I celebrate abroad throughout the year. Some holidays are very similar in the U.S. and Switzerland, but some are celebrated differently or don’t even exist in one country.


New Year’s

Similarly to in the U.S., “Silvester” and “Neujahr” (New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day) are holidays often celebrated among friends.On New Year’s Eve, people can do several things to make waiting until midnight easier:

“Dinner for one” is an old show that narrates an old woman’s birthday with already dead friends. Her butler has to simulate her friends. Because he has to drink all the guest’s glasses, he gets more and more drunk. People watch the exact same show every year. 

Another thing that people do is “Bleigiessen”, a tradition in which people throw liquid lead (or another metal) into water. Depending on how your frozen metal looks, you will have more or less luck for the following year.

At 12 p.m., people that drink alcohol (16 + in Switzerland), will clink glasses. Fireworks are frequently fired too, but they have been the subject of controversy due to their effects on animals .


Epiphany (Jan. 6)

On the day of Epiphany, many people eat a “king cake” which has a small, plastic king in one slice. The person who has the piece with the king is titled “king of the day” and gets a celebratory paper crown. At least in my state, we don’t have a day off.



Like in the U.S., Easter usually starts with Good Friday, followed by the weekend and ends with Easter Monday. Easter traditions differ depending on the family’s religion and tradition. But, of course, the Easter Rabbit is always hiding sweets and small presents in the yard.


Ascension Day and Pentecost

As for Christian holidays, Ascension Day, Pentecost and Whit Monday are celebrated throughout Switzerland. Ascension Day is always a Thursday, and the following Friday is a day off.


Labor Day 

May 1 is our labor day, which students have the day off for.


August 1

The first of August is the national holiday of Switzerland, similar to Independence Day in the U.S. There is a national celebration on the “Rütliwiese” (Rütli meadow) where, according to legend, three men (from Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden) made an alliance, resulting in the founding of Switzerland. 

Many people typically burn fireworks on August 1, but because of high fire hazards fireworks have been prohibited for the last few years.



Halloween is usually really Americanized because there are no Swiss Halloween traditions. The only similar holidays are the Catholic holidays All Saint’s Day on November 1 and All Souls day on November 2. However, these holidays are not widely celebrated and only All Saint’s Day is a day off in Catholic states.



Although it is a big event in the U.S., Thanksgiving is not celebrated at all in Switzerland. The only holiday that has some similarities is Erntedank, a church service, in which people thank God for the harvest. However, it is not a holiday that schools have off.


Election Day

Elections are in Switzerland usually on Sundays, so a day off is not required..



Christmas time in Switzerland usually starts when Advent starts. Families have Advent calendars and Advent wreaths. 

Dec. 6 is St Nicholas’ Day, on which children like to visit the “Samichlaus” (Santa Claus) with his assistant, the “Schmutzli”. Usually, Santa Claus also has a donkey. 

Nativity plays are common in the churches, and many families attend a service on these days. 

Christmas Eve is the time dedicated to presents. Unlike in the U.S., Santa Claus is not responsible for Christmas presents, but instead the “Christchind” (Christ Child). The “Christchind” is not considered Jesus, and everybody has their own interpretation of the Christchind. 

Christmas itself is usually a resting day and December 26 is also a holiday. Similarly to in the U.S., Christmas is a big marketing event for companies. 



The State of Zürich’s vacation schedule is quite different from the U.S. vacations. Summer break is the longest break, but it is only five weeks long.

Throughout the school year there is fall break, winter break, sports break (a break when people can go to the Alps and ski) and spring break. All of these vacations are two weeks long.

For me it is interesting to experience these different types of holidays. In my experience, the U.S. has more holidays that celebrate important national events whereas Swiss holidays are mostly Christian holidays.


Because the states and municipalities are responsible for holidays, not every holiday is celebrated in all of Switzerland. This article describes my experience as a resident of the Canton of Zürich.