Pull out the alphorns and yodel till the cows come home (literally): that’s how the Swiss celebrate summer and autumn traditions, in an array of top folklore festivals.
There are not festivals in every season all over Switzerland – but there are festivals in every season somewhere in Switzerland. Anyone wishing to experience the full calendar of customs can look forward to an exciting Tour de Suisse.
There are many different local festivals in summer. Some of them are linked to the Leben auf der Alp celebration of Alpine life, which is heralded in many places at the beginning of summer with a jubilant ascent of the Alps and ends with a festive Alpine descent and other events at the end of the summer, including a parade of herdsmen and cows through the streets, a part of alpine customs and festivals that means the summer holidays are over for cows.
On 1 August the people of Switzerland celebrate Swiss National Day, which is rare in that it is one of the few holidays that is celebrated nationally. Up and down the country there are speeches, firework displays, and parties, all accompanied by the waving of flags and the lighting of lanterns and beacons in the mountains.
The regional highlights in the summer months also include festivals featuring animal and outdoor entertainment:
- the Walliser Kuhkämpfe cow fighting festivals in Valais,
- the traditional shepherds’ festival on the Gemmi mountain pass with dancing, yodelling and flocks of sheep hungry for salt,
- the Marché-Concours in Saignelégier, a showjumping tournament with Freiberg horses and a spectacular procession.
The increasingly popular midsummer festivals in the Lake Geneva area start from the middle of August onwards – in Taveyanne (Gryon), at Lake Lioson (Les Mosses), in St-Cergue and Isenau (Les Diablerets). There are church services, concerts, folk dances, beauty pageants for cows and torchlit processions. These events are a must for lovers of the mountain culture and folklore of herdsmen and dairy farmers, where visitors can soak in the cordial atmosphere, enjoy the unhurried pace and sample a wide range of tasty regional products.
The summer is also high season for wrestling tournaments, mountain wrestling festivals and Schwingen (Swiss wrestling), alongside traditional costume and yodelling festivals, which echo to the sound of alphorns and Swiss folk music accompanied by the waving of flags – much to the delight of the folklore fans, tourists and the walkers who just happen to be passing through.
Summer is also the time to celebrate Alpine cheese culture, where you can visit a Swiss diary, watch cheese production or visit one of various cheese competitions or markets, some which end in a burst of festive folklore.
The autumn is traditionally the time of harvest and thanksgiving. Farmers used to sell cattle and poultry in the autumn and would then pay the farmhands their wages for work done in the summer. Therefore autumn was also a time for spending money and partying. There was plenty of opportunity to do so, with markets, restaurants, dances, stalls and much more.
To this day many of these autumn traditions have retained their market character. Examples include the many wine festivals in Vaud, Valais and Ticino, the picturesque Saint-Martin feast and market in Chevenez, and the many chestnut festivals in Ticino and the Bregaglia valley. Autumn is a great time to spend a long weekend exploring Switzerland’s village to see these regional Swiss festivals in action.