Switzerland moves to introduce a new national holiday

Switzerland moves to introduce a new national holiday

At a meeting on May 4, the National Council of Switzerland voted to give people in the alpine nation a treat every September 12. The lower house of parliament approved a plan that would make the day the first Swiss Federal Constitution came into force into a national holiday.

National Council approves new Swiss holiday

By 94 votes to 82, the government approved a plan submitted by Centre Party National Councillor Heinz Siegenthaler, which called for September 12 to be declared a national holiday. The result of the vote came as quite a surprise for the Swiss media, with 20 Minuten noting that previous attempts to make other dates a national holiday, like the beginning of women’s suffrage, have been resoundingly rejected by the chamber in the past.

“It is time that our citizens become aware of this memorable day so that we solemnise it as we should,” noted Siegenthaler in his proposal. If passed by the Council of States, September 12 will become only the second federally mandated holiday in the country after national day - Christian and other country-wide holidays are regulated by individual Swiss cantons.

Why make September 12 a holiday in Switzerland?

The reason why September 12 has been chosen as a federal holiday has its roots in Swiss history. When the Old Swiss Confederacy was created in 1291, the country was founded on the idea of an alliance of individual independent cantons which could act with or against each other.

While there was a weak federal organisation designed to govern the country as a whole (the Tagsatzung), Zurich, Bern and other cantons would maintain the ability to raise armies, conduct diplomacy, make war on each other, collect taxes and make their own domestic and foreign policy decisions - so much so that during the War of the League of Cambrai in 1515, each canton's compliment of soldiers were able to vote to leave the Swiss Army as they saw fit.

Switzerland centralised by force

After the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798, attempts by Napoleon Bonaparte to centralise the country as the “Helvetic Republic” were so unpopular that the state collapsed in 1803, with the emperor acknowledging that the country would remain a collection of individual states. That would change in 1847.

That year, eight cantons angry at plans to centralise the country's government and expel religious orders formed the Sonderbund or separate alliance against the still fledgling central government. The creation of the alliance would lead to the month-long Sonderbund War in the same year, which would end in federal victory after little bloodshed - one of the few English histories of the war is entitled: “A Very Civil War: The Swiss Sonderbund War Of 1847.”

September 12, 1848: the beginning of modern Switzerland

After this, a new constitution created the idea of Swiss citizenship (instead of cantonal citizenship), passports and a national currency. It also created the modern system of government we know today with a president, upper and lower houses of parliament, referendums and a judiciary, all designed to curtail the power of individual cantons.

This first Swiss Federal Constitution came into force on September 12, 1848, hailing the start of what is known as “modern Switzerland.” 

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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