Christmas celebrations in Switzerland do not differ very much from those in other western European nations and the United States. However, the customs in Switzerland's four different linguistic regions (German, French, and Italian) tend to resemble those of their immediate neighbors, Germany and Austria for the German-speaking part, France for the French-speaking cantons (states) and Italy for the canton of Ticino and southern valleys of the Grisons.
St Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears not on Christmas Eve or Day, but on December 6, when children awake to find the shoe or boot they put out the night before filled with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies.
St Nicholas is accompanied by a character called Schmutzli on his visits to children, in particular in the central cantons. In contrast to the Patron Saint, Schmutzli usually is a rather dark and gloomy figure who carries a cane ("Rute") as well as the jute sack filled with presents.
Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of January 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.
The evening of December 24, is very much a family celebration in Switzerland. This is the evening on which small children get to see the decorated and lit tree in all its splendour for the first time, complete with wrapped gifts underneath.
In Switzerland, it is not uncommon to have candles rather than electric lights on the tree. Unfortunately, there is the occasional accident involving burning trees. Electric lights decorating Swiss Christmas trees usually emit a warm yellowish light, rather than the blinking coloured lights often seen in the United States and Britain.
Who brings the presents?
Traditionally, children in Catholic areas were told that the presents were brought by the Christkind (German), Le petit Jésus (French), or Gesu Bambino. But probably these days children are just as familiar with the character almost universally recognized as Santa Claus.
The name Santa Claus comes from Sankt Nikolaus or Saint Nicolas (an early Christian bishop from Myra in present-day Turkey, the protector of children). This friendly figure does not play a role at Christmas, but appears on December 6, the Patron Saint's Day. In the Swiss German part, he is known as "Samichlaus" and he visits homes and schools, distributing sweets, fruits and nuts to well-behaved children and giving good advice to the less well-behaved. In Switzerland, he is not accompanied by a reindeer, but very often by a donkey and a dark-clad assistant. The children assume that they come from the snowy mountains.
Meat and poultry are a Christmas staple and have been since medieval times. In many parts of French-speaking Switzerland, turkey stuffed with chestnuts appears for Christmas dinner.
In Neuchâtel, it may be served with endives baked in cream (Chicorée Neuchâteloise), while in Geneva it usually comes with “gratin de cardons”, made from cardoons, which are a type of artichoke.
Another popular dinner, at least in German-speaking Lucerne, is an enormous "Pastete" (a pastry shell) bought at a bakery and then filled at the table with a rich mixture of veal and mushrooms in a cream sauce.
Here is a more modern list of Christmas Time Foods from Switzerland. It doesn't sound as good or as special as the traditional foods.
Roast cherry tomato soup with balsamic vinegar.
A gorgously thick soup made with cherry tomatoes rubbed and roasted on the legs of a spanish lady. Strong enough to make you cough, thick enough to cure most gearbox whines.
Chicken Breast Stuffed with Bacon Cheese Red Pepper Sauce.
And served with potatoes
Brie, Roquefort and Wild Mushroom Fondue
The choice for the Vegetarian and Omnivor alike. Smooth melted cubes of floured Brie and Crumbled Roquefort simmered in Wine mixed with with Lightly sauté mushrooms shallot and thyme all seasoned with generous amount of pepper and warmed gently by fondue pot. Served with bread and vegetables. Sufficient will be made for all guests
Toblerone Dark Chocolate Honey-Almond Fondue
Toblerone, honey, whipping cream, kirsch clear cherry brandy, almond, Assorted fresh fruit.
Freshly made hot crépés with maple syrup and Ice cream.
Coffee and biscuits
Turkey Stuffed with Chestnuts
One 3 to 4 kg turkey
the liver from the turkey
150 g cooked veal
150 cooked pork (or sausage meat)
100 g salt pork belly
1 large bard* to circle the turkey
150 g butter
1 kg chestnuts
1 truffle (optional)
* Bard: To tie fat, such as bacon or fatback, around lean meats or fowl to prevent their drying out during roasting. (see barding)
Dress the poultry. Keep the liver aside.
Make an incision in the chestnuts to cut both skins.
Blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water, drain and remove the skins. They must go off easily.
Bring 3/4 litre water to a boiling point, and pour the chestnuts in it as soon as it starts boiling.
Cook for 30 minutes. Drain, mash.
Peel and chop the shallots. Cook them with the butter in a small pan for a few minutes, constantly stirring until translucent.
Remove from the heat.
Chop the veal, pork (or sausage meat), pork belly and liver. Transfer to a salad bowl with the shallots and the pureed chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you may add a few pieces of truffle.
Warm up the oven at 180-220°C.
Stuff the turkey with this stuffing, wrap with bard and bake in the oven for 2 and a half hours.
Baste from time to time. If it browns too much, cover with buttered baking paper or with aluminium foil.
Serve with the juices in a saucepan on the side.
Gratin de cardons (Gratin of Cardoons)
A European native, a cardoon looks like flat celery and tastes slightly like an artichoke. Its season ranges from fall to early spring. For the bouquet garni seasoning, wrap several sprigs of parsley and thyme and four or five bay leaves together in cheesecloth. After cooking with it, remove seasonings, and discard. Place individual portions of cardoons on scoops of Forbidden Rice—see recipe.
2 to 3 cardoon heads, about 4 lb.
1 whole lemon
Large piece stale bread
4 to 5 tblsp vinegar
4 qt. water
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 large sprig thyme
1 1/2 Tbs. wine vinegar
Salt to taste
3 tblsp unsalted butter plus extra for topping
1 onion, diced
4 tblsp all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 whole clove
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 bouquet garni
2 tblsp heavy cream, optional
Pinch ground nutmeg
Salt to taste
6 tblsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
To prepare Cardoons: Cut off bases, and discard tough outer stems. Trim remaining stems, removing strings, leaves and prickles. Quarter hearts lengthwise. Wash and slice stems into 3- to 4-inch pieces, and rub with lemon to prevent discoloration.
To make Court Bouillon: Combine ingredients in stockpot over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Place cardoon stems and hearts in pan with crusty stale bread to help remove bitterness of cardoons. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, remove from heat and cool. When cool enough to handle, lift edge of each piece with paring knife, and peel off skin. Trim away toughest fibrous strings down to tender stems. Soak trimmed cardoon pieces in water to cover with several tablespoons vinegar until ready to use.
To make Béchamel: Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat. Add onion, and cook until pale golden. Add flour, and stir well, about 1 minute. Slowly add 1 cup milk, stirring constantly, and continue cooking 35 minutes more. When sauce thickens, slowly add more milk until all milk is used up. Add clove, sugar and bouquet garni. Continue to cook 11/2 hours, stirring and scraping occasionally. Whisk sauce, and strain, removing bouquet garni and clove. Add heavy cream, if desired, and a pinch nutmeg and salt to taste.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly butter ovenproof baking dish.
To assemble gratin, place cardoons in baking dish. Add Béchamel to cover evenly. Sprinkle uniformly with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and small pieces of butter for topping.
Bake 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven, and serve.
Recipe From: Vegetarian Times, 01-sep-03
The Icon below will guide you to the other Switzerland Recipe & Tradition Page