Swiss Winter Festivals and Traditions

Topics covered

  • Advent
  • Christmas cookies
  • Swiss Santa and Schmutzli
  • Christmas markets
  • Local winter traditions
  • Epiphany and the Three Kings’ Cake

Who We're Speaking With

In this episode, Daniel Shalom and Diccon Bewes speak about some of the traditions of winter here in Switzerland.

Diccon Bewes grew up in Britain but moved to Switzerland in 2005. His first book, Swiss Watching, became an international bestseller and he is now writing his ninth Swiss title. He lives in Bern with his partner (and a cupboard full of chocolate).

About the Episode

Winter is a fantastic season in Switzerland. Every region has its unique traditions, many of which are hundreds of years old. From Christmas markets to traditional Swiss cookies to the Three Kings’ cake tradition in January, you’re sure to find something to enjoy.

Many of the Swiss winter traditions feature special foods and drinks. Here are some highlights:

  • Christmas cookies:
    • Brunsli: Made from almonds, chocolate, and spices, these cookies originated in Basel.
    • Spitzbuben: These are like jammy dodgers. They are made with various types of jam. Since the name means ‘naughty boys,’ the holes sometimes resemble a face.
    • Zimtsterne: Cinnamon stars are made of almond dough spiced with cinnamon and topped with sugary icing.
    • Mailänderli: These are plain cookies glazed with egg yolk.
  • Fondue and raclette: In the winter, these two cheese-based foods are a staple in many Swiss households. They are popular dishes for get-togethers and are often served in traditional restaurants. Although they are available year-round for tourists in some areas, locals only eat them in the winter.
  • Satsumas and peanuts: Traditionally, Swiss Santa brought satsumas and peanuts. Nowadays, children still get small bags of peanuts, mixed with chocolates and other sweets, on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th). Satsumas are eaten throughout the winter season.
  • The Three Kings cake: Epiphany is on January 6th. Bakeries around the country sell a cake comprised of buns studded with raisins. A charm is hidden inside one of the buns, and the person who discovers it is crowned king or queen of the year. This tradition dates back to Roman times.


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