Happy Easter From Switzerland’s Lindt Bunnies (Doing What Bunnies Do)

Happy Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day isn’t anywhere close to as big in Switzerland as it is in the US, it’s still possible to find signs of it.  It’s kind of nice because there is no way I would go out to dinner in the US on Valentine’s Day.  The restaurants are too crowded and it somehow seems stilted.  Here, where things aren’t quite as commercialized (or mainstream), it’s quite nice…until you get the Swiss-sized bill and are reminded why you don’t do this very often.   Oh well, at least the chocolates are to die for.

 

Tschäggättä Masks

It’s Tschäggättä time again!  Last year, we went to see the Tschäggättä parade in Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley during Carnival/Fasnacht.  The costumes and the masks amazed us in particular.

Until the 1900’s, only the valley’s inhabitants knew Lötschental’s masks.  Over the next four decades, Tschäggättä masks gained recognition as works of art and a unique cultural heritage.  After WWII, with recognition, the Lötschental Valley’s increased contact with the world, and greater demand, there was a golden age of Tschäggättä masks.

Tschäggättä masks are instantly recognizable.  Their distinguishing features include:

  • Large, smiling mouths, either with carved wooden teeth, or toothless (sometimes they have animal teeth
  • The mouth is either s-shaped, curved up or rectangular
  • They usually feature bulging, uneven eyes

 

Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

Easter In Sweden

Easter celebrations in secular Sweden are comparable to Christmas for the secular American.  While some attend church on Easter Sunday, for a majority of Swedes many of the celebrations have little to do with Christian beliefs.  Easter is a big deal in Sweden and the entire country partakes in their holiday traditions.   We were in Sweden weeks before Easter, but signs of it were already everywhere.   The Swedes seemed to look forward to Easter as a sign of spring.

I asked a nice lady at the National Museum gift shop about branches with colored feathers attached to them.  In the 12 hours I’d spent in Sweden, I’d seen them countless times.  She explained to me that Easter in Sweden is kind of like Halloween in the US.  In Sweden, children dress up as witches, paint their faces, carry brooms and knock on their neighbor’s doors for treats.

The schedule is a bit different than in the US.  Many of the traditions predate Christianity and were incorporated into Easter celebrations over the years:

  • Palmsöndag (Palm Sunday) Instead of picking up palm leaves or other branches from the church, Swedes pick up pussy willows.  They are also used as an Easter decoration.
  • Svarta måndag (black Monday) is when chimneys were traditionally swept.
  • The Thursday before Easter, Skärtorsdag (Holy Thursday), Swedish children dress up as påskkärringar (witches) and go trick-or-treating…well, sort of.   Skärtorsdagen is the day of the Last Supper.  Swedes considered it a dangerous day to be out, because the old spirits were let loose.  The night was a time for the devil, who wanted you to sign a contract exchanging for riches for your soul.  Hence the witches…

  • Good Friday is more appropriately named in Swedish Långfredag – Long Friday.  No fun may be had on this day (to mourn of the crucifixion of Christ).  In fact, public entertainment was prohibited until 1969.   The fun recommences on Saturday morning.
  • Saturday night is Påskafton (the Christmas eve of Easter), a day for feasting and eating.  Families sit down to dinners of eggs and lamb, representing the fertility of the spring and the rebirth of the year after the long winter.   They also have special crackers and exchange cards.  Traditionally children make drawings of witches, chickens and eggs accompanied by a few words.  In the late afternoon, bonfires are lit in many areas to scare off the evil influences.
  • During Easter week in Sweden, it is taboo to get married or baptize a child.

By the way, Swedes also have beautifully decorated Easter eggs, both decorative and edible.

What Makes Basel’s Carnival Different?

Basel has the only Protestant Carnival celebration in this part of the world.  As a result, they do things a bit differently.  Don’t worry, it is still tons of fun.  Here are some of the ways in which Basel’s carnival is unique:

  • The instruments in Basel are mainly fifes/piccolos/flutes and drums.  This makes the music reminiscent of military tattoos.
  Most of the songs sound like they were composed to march to.  I even recognized a couple (Dixie and Battle Hymn of the Republic).

  • Some carnival celebrations are an orgy of drunkenness, license and excess.  Basel’s Protestant character and general Swissness means that obnoxious behavior, lewdness and inappropriately revealing attire are unwelcome.  Unlike more fleshy and raucous celebrations, imagination, satire, wonder and magic are the order of the day.

  • The Reformation made efforts to suppress the carnival.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholic church also tried to end it because of its subversive aspects.  During this time, celebrations continued in the form of a “feast day”.  For this reason, Basel’s carnival is not called Carnival, but instead Fastnacht (which refers to the fast after the feast).  Military guilds were involved in these celebrations and influenced today’s celebrations.  Doubtless, the marching by numberous organized groups, the fife and drum music and the tattoo-like parading were all influenced by them.

  • German immigrants brought carnival traditions with them.  You see their influence in the lanterns, elaborate parades, floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads (that often lampoon public figures and politicians).

  • Enormous float-size lanterns satirically depict current topics and public figures.  Many of this year’s floats addressed the financial crisis.

  • Poets and songwriters compose humorous commentary on current affairs, much of which lampoons politicians. They recite them in pubs and play the songs in the street.  These are written in the Basel dialect, so that only locals can understand the airing of the city’s dirty laundry.

 

Tschäggättä. Tschwhata? A Swiss Valley’s Unique Carnival Celebration

Tschäggättä are frightening figures that wear furs, giant cowbells around their waists and carved wooden masks.  Every inch of the person underneath the costume is covered to prevent their recognition.  Tschäggättä walk the streets during Carnival waving large wooden sticks,  scaring and/or tossing soot (nowdays confetti) at their unsuspecting victims.  An unwritten rule, allows only unmarried men to do this.  Go figure.  Guys always try to arrange things so that they have all the fun.

It sounds like a rockin’ good time to me, but some may ask whyTschäggättä stems from a time when winter cut the Lötschental Valley off from the outside world during winter.  It was fairly isolated the rest of the year.  Like many rural places, the church dominated many aspects of daily life.   Local peasants saw the time around Carnival as an opportunity to let off some steam, an expression of anarchy and rebellion.   Or, it could come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.

The legend of Tschäggättä describes them as wild men, thieves from the no longer existing town (but poorer) across the valley that would come to steal.  The thieves dressed themselves up in frightening costumes to create fear and aid in their larceny.

 

Geneva’s Christmas Lights

Geneva waits to turn on its Christmas lights until December 1st.   Being Swiss, Geneva puts their decorations up way before the first, but waits until the official start of the holidays (no Thanksgiving there) to turn them on.   He loves Christmas lights and we would walk in the evenings hoping that this would be the night they were finally on.  We traveled most of December, but managed to see a bit of them.
Each time I see the cranes all lit up, I smile.  Thanks construction companies.  You add to my enjoyment of the holidays.  Clark W. Griswold would be proud of your exterior illumination.
I love it when the trees are completely covered in lights. The building is pretty cool too.
In general, I notice a lot more greenery, balls and lights in decorations over here.  Perhaps we haven’t been frequenting the right places, but I haven’t seen as many Santa’s, Snowmen and Nativity Scenes.  Just to be thorough, I haven’t seen any elves, angels or animals either. Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen Dickens’ era (British) or Currier and Ives (American) style decorations either.  No pictures of old-fashioned Christmases with carolers, ice skaters or sleighs.
They are festive, but elegant.  Oh yeah, I haven’t seen any houses done up like Clark W. Griswold’s either.  Now that we are back in the states, I am on it and will try to find some.

 

 

It’s The Little Differences – Halloween Version

One bag’s worth of candy

Top Ten Ways Halloween is Different in Switzerland:

10.  Smaller bags of Halloween candy.  There are 10-20 pieces per bag and each bag costs a lot more.

9.    You have to search hard to find the candy.  It’s not like the US where they sell it everywhere.  There are aisles of chocolate bars in the grocery stores.  Finding individually wrapped candies suitable for your Halloween candy bowl is another matter.  For example, I do not think it is appropriate to hand out individually wrapped candies containing cherry liqueur to children.

8.    Costumes are scary and supernatural-themed (witches, zombies, vampires, brains, blood, guts, etc.).  You don’t see nurses, TV/movie characters, famous people, cartoon characters, superheros, etc. The Rocky Horror Picture Show may be lost in translation.

7.    No trick-or-treaters.

Sally Brown:  Do I get to go trick-or-treating this year big
brother?
Charlie Brown:  Sure, Sally.
Sally Brown:  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!  How do we do it?
Lucy Van Pelt:  All you have to do is walk up to a house, ring the doorbell and say “Tricks or Treats.”
Sally Brown:  Are you sure it’s legal?
Lucy Van Pelt:  Of course it’s legal.
Sally Brown:  I wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble.

I am Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo“; he’s in Leiderhosen. 

6.    Halloween is not a huge holiday here so you get strange looks riding the tram or walking down the street looking like this.  I found it helpful to wish everyone who looked at me strangely a “happy Halloween”.  It usually elicited a smile.

5.    No pumpkin spice lattes.  We may have to bring some back with us.  I have become fixated on it.

4.    You might be disappointed with your Snickers after getting used to Swiss chocolate.  I suspect this aspect of reintegration will be difficult.

3.    No pet costumes.  If I happen to see a St. Bernard (or any other dog) in costume, I promise to whip out my camera and post it for you.

2.    Here, pumpkins are for eating.  It is hard to find carving pumpkins here and there are definitely not any pumpkin patches.  For that matter, I haven’t heard of any cider mills either.  Great, now I’m starting to fixate on apple cider too.

1.    No “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” on TV.   Thank goodness our awesome family sent us the book.

Happy Halloween!  Eat, drink and be scary!

 

Les Incompetents Vol. 5 – Ordering Drinks at the Fête de Carouge

We went to the Fête de Carouge, a 10-day party to celebrate the neighboring town of Carouge’s 250th birthday. Carouge is great any day, but the Fête was very impressive. There were a lot of people out to celebrate. While we were in line, I chatted with the nice Peruvians in line next to us. He got up to order and asked me what I wanted.  I said “red”, without thinking. I meant a glass of it. They gave me a bottle. Oops. I should have been paying attention rather than letting him order unsupervised. Luckily, people arrived to help me drink it.*
Cool huh? Definitely better than your average barrier
They had cute platers filled with veggies and herbs all over the place for decoration.
All of the trees were decorated with cool lanterns.
They built a palace out of plywood
Everyone came out to enjoy the fun. They had three stages with entertainment.
Since the town has Italian roots, the plywood palace was filled with Italian food and craft vendors
The food smelled amazing and you could watch them cook it
When was the last time you saw stone carving?
* Yes.  You can just walk around with bottles like that.  People would look at you funny if it wasn’t a special event though.