Did you know that today is Swiss National Day?
This means it is a national holiday and everything is closed in preparation for the festivities tonight (well, not entirely true, some towns celebrated last night and are nursing their hangovers today)! Neuchâtel’s 1st of August celebrations, however, take place tonight and I’m looking forward to it. The Swiss may be pretty straight-laced and rule bound most of the time but when it comes to organised events they sure know how to let their hair down.
Swiss National Day has been celebrated as the 1st of August since 1891. The date was chosen for a couple reasons. The main one that every one quotes is the fact that the Federal Charter of 1291 was signed at the beginning of august. This was when the first 3 cantons (Uri, Schwytz, Nidwald) signed a treaty which was to become the basis of the Swiss Confederation. The second reason is because in 1889 the Federal Counsel wanted to organise a national fête and 1891 marked not only the 600th anniversary of this treaty but also the 700th anniversary of the city of Bern (Switzerland’s Capital City).
1 August is celebrated each year with paper lantern parades and music (Alphorn is especially common in the German speaking regions). There are also bonfires where you can grill your Cervelas. Oh and everything is covered in Swiss and Cantonal flags and of course there are fireworks. We are lucky that we live on a lake as we can generally see all the firework displays from the other lake towns across the water meaning. It can be pretty spectacular when the skies are clear.
What are cervelas I hear you ask? Also know as cervelat, servelat or zervelat (depending on where you are) they are the national sausage made out of a mixture of pork (50%) beef, veal (20%), and bacon. The original sausage contained some brain hence the name from the latin cerebrum but this is no longer the case. A swiss party is not complete without your cervelas which has to be prepared in a very particular way – I had everything carefully explained to me last year after a swiss friend found me cooking my cereals completely wrong. Firstly you must cut a cross in both ends of your sausage which is about 3-4cm deep and then you have to peel off the skin. Then in order to roast it to perfection you must skewer it on a stick and turn it over the flames slowly so that it browns and doesn’t burn. Once it is cooked the cut ends of the sausage should curve out from the centre and it should resemble this picture that I have borrowed of the Swiss newspaper 24 heures:
La Fête National, as we call it in Neuchâtel, is a great occasion for the Swiss to celebrate their country and their heritage. While is is a big party it still has its serious note and is probably the only occasion where the head of the local commune gets to address such a large audience. Every first of August the president de la commune gives a speech to outline current political issues and policies (and of course to praise Switzerland). Sometimes these speeches become famous for their content and the newspapers the next day are filled with every journalists’ analysis of what was said and what was meant. I guess it is a bit like the Queen’s speech every year at Christmas except the fact it is so local.
I was tickled to hear that apparently, in Britain, it is also Yorkshire Day thanks to Bettys and Taylors tearooms. This is because Betty’s tearooms were founded by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss confectioner. He arrived in Yorkshire speaking no English (although I probably wouldn’t have understood much as a native speaker with the accent back then either) and set up this very English sounding tearoom, Bettys, in July 1919.
We are going to watch the fireworks from a friends terrace tonight which overlooks the port where they are set off. We will try and keep E up to watch them as a special treat and grill her first cervelas but M is too young to take part yet. Next year we will do the lantern parades all together but tonight should be a blast.
Happy 1st of August!