Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Swiss Independence Day, August 1, 2017

The Prelude. The Swiss are quite patriotic. You see their red flags with a white cross and little red candleholder cups designed with the white cross in multitudinous places—homes, stores, and public places. The candles are lit at dusk on August first.
Flags decorating my apartment complex balconies.

Beginning three nights before the actual celebration, we could hear firecrackers going off all around us. But nothing prepared us for the actual celebration on the evening of August 1. 

Stores began stocking all sorts of fireworks, sparklers, and firecrackers of all sorts a month before the celebration. In fact, they began appearing around July 4, which was ironically interesting for a US American, navigating his way through a year in Switzerland.

The brunch. It has become increasingly popular to eat brunch on a farm sometime before noon
Andy, Ruth, Esther's sister and
daughter Jasmina Wyss.
on August first. Esther’s sister Ruth invited us to join her family for brunch. We drove up into a very remote corner of the Jura Mountains, passing a number of Mennonite settlements, including the farm where my brother-in-law’s mother grew up. She is an Amstutz. Winding along narrow roads and through a one-lane tunnel, we ended up at the Scheidegger Ranch with some one hundred other people.

Esther and I enjoying our brunch.
The food.
The buffet menu consisted of fried eggs and bacon along with the Swiss version of hash browns (called Röschti, and a good bit better, I would add). Breads, including the traditional braided Sunday Züpfe, jams, and a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, Birchermüesli and coffee rounded out the buffet’s offerings. We ate to our hearts’ content.

The Outing. You cannot be invited to a Swiss celebration of any sort without going on an after brunch (dinner) walk to “help with the digestion,” so we wound our way down one mountain through Tramelan and up the other side to Chasseral, a lookout point with communication’s tower on the top of a 5,000 ft. mountain. I understand that it is the highest point of the Jura mountain range that borders on France in the western part of Switzerland. The tower is visible from many areas of Switzerland, even from our dinning room window in Aarberg.
Overlooking Lake Biel from the tower

We walked the fifteen-minute trail from the parking lot to the tower, took some pictures and then headed back. We had to stop at the restaurant for drinks before heading back home. 

The Celebration in Aarberg. From about 7:30 pm on to midnight, the town of Aarberg planned an Independence Day Celebration in the “Stedtli,” the beautiful “Old Town.” About 300 people gathered to hear a local choir and band that provided entertainment while they ordered a variety of foods and drinks before taking part in the official part of the evening.

First, there was a welcoming speech by the Mayor, then a reflective speech by a distinguished
Mayor of Aarberg
The youth who were honored
guest on the future of democracy in the Switzerland as well as the world. The next part of the ceremony was a pleasant surprise for me. They had invited about 20 young people, who had just turned 18, as special guests for the ceremony. They were given a letter from the Mayor, and encouraged to become active citizens in Switzerland’s civic life. Not only is 18 the voting age for Swiss, but also when they are allowed to get their driver’s license. I found this to be an interesting touch to an Independence Day Celebration, but am told it is pretty common throughout Switzerland. I find this to be a wonderful rite of passage unknown to us in the USA.

Words to the Swiss National Hymn
After the youth were honored, we stood to sing all four verses of the Swiss National Hymn. The
crowd was admonished for only knowing the first verse, so flyers with all four verses were passed out so that all could join in. That was a great help for me, who didn’t even know the first verse. In my opinion as a musician and a singer, the music of the Swiss hymn far surpasses our own anthem, which is nearly unsingable. The words paint a picture of the beauty of Switzerland’s natural God-given land and a longing for that land, rather than a bellicose tribute to a flag.

At exactly 9:15 pm, the children paraded through the Stedtli with the traditional red ball lanterns suspended on a stick called “⁠⁠⁠Fackeln,” accompanied by drumming. The Fackeln lanterns are red with the white cross, with a lit candle inside. Many of the children were dressed in traditional dress. It was a touching sight, with the children eagerly anticipating their inclusion in the national event. The traditional parade is called a “Fackelnumzug.”

After the children’s parade, everyone was encouraged to stay on to dance until midnight. A band was provided for that purpose. Esther and I were pretty exhausted from all the activities of the day, so we went home.

Decorated Old Town
The Fireworks. I was pretty sure that we could see some major fireworks displays from our kitchen window on the third floor of our apartment complex. Several years earlier, we were invited to one of the more famous fireworks in Switzerland set off over Lake Biel. Since Biel is only 20 minutes away from where we live, I figured that we could see them from our house. I was not disappointed. Although not as spectacular from a distance, I could still claim that I saw them.

However, who needed the fireworks from a distance? The Swiss LOVE fireworks, and the laws prohibiting certain types must not be as strict as they are where I am from. We had spectacular displays both in front of as well as behind our apartment. Along with the numerous firecrackers, the noise sounded like we were in the middle of a war zone. The only similar thing I’ve experienced was in Honduras during their New Year’s celebrations after being suppressed by a state of siege during a war.

It was impossible to escape the noise. I finally fell asleep at around 11:00 pm, but when I went to the bathroom at 2:00 am, they were still going strong. All the reticence of the typical Swiss character seemed to be let loose with a bang—or maybe I should say quite a few bangs.

The other traditional event is the lighting of a huge bonfire. We didn’t personally witness any of these, but as we travelled around during the day, we saw many pyres prepared for this event. They are HUGE. I did see a large plume of smoke off in the distance from my kitchen window, but I wasn’t sure if it was from a bonfire or some other fireworks.  

The aftermath. I have come to know the Swiss to be some of the neatest and tidiest people on the planet. However, when I walked around my city the morning after, there was trash, mostly from various and sundry spent fireworks, littered everywhere. For a US American who likes tidiness up to a certain point, a tidiness that doesn’t include obsessiveness, it was a sight to behold!

On my walk, I ran into a neighbor who wasn’t as enthused about the celebrative noise as most Swiss. After asking about how I slept, she went on a tirade against the festivities of the night before. She said her dog went berserk with every bang, and she imagined that the many babies in the neighborhood weren’t very impressed either. She probably has her house in pristine order.
Decorated Old Town of Aarberg

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