Swiss National (Surprise) Day

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“Make sure you go somewhere with bonfires and fireworks for Swiss National Day,” said a Swiss friend of mine in regards to my upcoming plans for Wednesday August 1st.

Although the suggestion was sound, my reaction was apathetic at best.

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

It has been an odd summer for me, one with nowhere near as much active traveling or exploration as has been usual when I land in a new place. (Then again, it took me months to get my groove on the first time I was in Grenada last year – although a dose of dengue fever and heartbreak will do that to you).

So my Swiss summer has flown by and I’ve perfected the art of traveling without moving, artfully dodging questions about what I’ve seen or done in my (almost) two months here.

To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed about how little I’ve done in Switzerland.

(More on this revelatory emotional journey to come in future posts).

So irregardless of Swiss National Day and the search for bonfires and fireworks, I drove to the cottage to get my “mountain fix”.

After a beautiful drive and little romp in the hills, I wandered into the town centre to get some ingredients for dinner. As I walked one way through town, the streets were characteristically quiet (Sorenberg is a winter ski town, and very quiet in summer).

But walking back through town on the way home, a transformation was in progress. People were coming out of the woodworks, and a plaza parking lot was being filled with tables, benches, barbecues, and the accoutrements of a celebratory evening of sorts.

So I decided to stop for a beer and watch whatever was unfolding.

Three hours later, I was in tears after some of the more moving – and surprising – experiences I’ve had in my five+ years of full-time travels.

Before my (first) beer was finished, the tables were set up, the bratwurst was sizzling, and hundreds of people were taking their seats. Dozens of people in traditional Swiss garb were milling around.

Traditional Swiss Garb on Swiss National Day

I bemusedly decided to stick around and see what this was all about. The Swiss costumes alone – something I had figured was long ago dismissed as a cultural dinosaur, even on special occasions – was worth further observation.

The ensuing evening was filled with brass bands, dancers, speeches, and the most amazing yodelling group I’d ever heard.

(No, really. I officially think yodelling is totally cool now. Check out the video below for yourself. I dare you to not be impressed).

Yodellers in Sorenberg on Swiss National Day
Accordion players in Switzerland
the band plays on with mountains in the background
Traditional swiss dancers

It was all unabashedly Swiss; I had stumbled onto a cultural experience that was totally unexpected – and filled with pleasant surprises.

Even a speech (which I presumed was given by the town’s mayor) brought tears to the eye of a gentleman sitting next to me. And despite my complete lack of comprehension of the words spoken, I too was moved.

As very likely the only foreigner amongst the hundreds of attendees, I was sought out over and over again by various people and personally welcomed to Switzerland and even thanked for my attendance. They were just as honoured to have me in their tiny mountain town and appreciating their cultural performances, as I was honoured to be so warmly welcomed.

The evening was capped off with massive bonfires lining the road, fireworks everywhere, and a palpable air of celebration and joviality.

I’ve had a few surprising experiences on the road (like encountering an eccentric artist in Spain and having racial preconceptions challenged in Australia at the world’s longest protest), and Swiss National Day is now among these experiences that have reminded me why I decided to sell everything to travel the world many years ago.

Check out this short video montage of Swiss National Day as celebrated in a little mountain town.

Ready to Celebrate Swiss National Day in Switzerland? 

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4 thoughts on “Swiss National (Surprise) Day”

  1. As it was me, the Swiss friend who made the suggestion to join a Swiss National Day celebration, I am now rather touched after reading that this experience has moved you so much. And it makes me a little bit proud, too. Of course you went to the right place, in the mountains where traditions like these are still held high. Good on you!

  2. @Adrian – Thank you for the great advice! I hope your own Swiss National Day celebrations were fantastic.

  3. @Callie – I was subsequently chatting with some Swiss friends who made fun of my enthusiasm for the yodelling; apparently if you’re Swiss and hear it all the time, it isn’t so cool! Ha ha!


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