Tomorrow, the 1st of August, is Swiss National Day (Fête nationale Suisse, Schweizer Bundesfeier, Festa nazionale svizzera). The nationwide holiday celebrates the 1291 founding of the Swiss Confederation.
Swiss National Day has been celebrated on the 1st of August annually since 1891; beginning in 1994, the day has been recognized as an official national holiday.
The significance of 1291
Early in the month of August 1291, representatives from three Swiss cantons (Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri) formed a pact of mutual defense in a meadow at Rütli, near Lake Lucerne. These three cantons formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy.
In the 14th century, Bern, Zurich, and Lucerne joined; the Swiss then conquered Glarus and Zug. Between 1481 and 1513, the confederacy expanded to comprise thirteen cantons, including Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel, Schaffhausen, and Appenzell. It wasn’t until 1815 that Switzerland’s borders as they are known today were formed. Geneva, Neuchâtel, and Valais were the last cantons to join the confederacy.
Interested in learning more about the events of 1291? The Swiss National Museum in Schwyz has a permanent exhibition devoted to the formation of Switzerland and its progress and expansion through history.
Celebrations across Switzerland
At the Rütli Meadow above Lake Lucerne, a ceremony is held each National Day to mark the 1291 pact between Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri. Elsewhere in Switzerland, communities hold their own celebrations. A list of different ceremonies, festivals, and events can be found by clicking here.
Bonfires, fireworks, parades, and speeches by local figures are commonly seen on the holiday. Another way to celebrate National Day is with a farm brunch. This tradition began in 1993 as a way to recognize Swiss farmers; search for a local brunch by clicking here.
Celebrations in Geneva
In Geneva, Swiss National Day falls during the annual Fêtes de Genève. In addition to the festivities along the lakefront, the city hosts a Fête nationale celebration in Plainpalais. Every year, a different canton is featured; this year’s selected canton is Jura.
From 15h00 until 0h00, there will be children’s activities, music, and dancing at the plaine de Plainpalais. Activities include a climbing wall, horse rides, demonstrations of Roman chariot races, and more. At sundown, there will be a public procession through the area ending with a large bonfire, followed by more music and dancing.
More information about the festivities in Geneva’s Plainpalais is available by clicking here (in French). Access the plaine de Plainpalais via Bus 1 or Tram 12, 14, 15, and 18 (stop: Plainpalais).
As with most other public holidays, most businesses are closed on Swiss National Day, though there are some exceptions. If the holiday takes you by surprise and you’re in need of groceries, the Migros at Geneva’s airport is open, along with some smaller shops and gas stations.
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