Jeûne genevois is a public holiday in Geneva. Jeûne genevois means Genevan Fast (Genfer Bettag in German) and it has its origins in the 16th century. It is, essentially, the Genevan Thanksgiving day. But, unlike American Thanksgiving with its legendary turkey, the culinary tradition in Geneva is to eat a special kind of plum tart (tarte aux pruneaux) on this day.
Jeûne genevois in the 21st century
Most public and private businesses are closed, so it's important to take note of this in advance, so you're not caught off-guard. Typically there are no live music events or festivals taking place, either. Think of it as a day of rest.
Nowadays, fasting is not commonly carried out on Jeûne genevois, despite the name. In fact, on this day, it’s customary to treat yourself to plum tart.
The origins of Jeûne genevois
Fasting was a sign of solidarity with Protestants that were experiencing persecution - not only Swiss Protestants but particularly the Huguenots in France, who widely were persecuted against around this time.
It was a way of remembering the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, in which whole families of Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) were tragically murdered, while many others fled to other countries in their droves. Geneva, being a Calvinist city was a refuge for these displaced families. Giving thanks and penitence took place yearly, in remembrance.
As time went by Jeûne genevois became as much a patriotic event as a religious one. From 1831, Federal fasts were established for all Swiss cantons, known as the Jeûne Federal, however Geneva diverged from it. To this day it celebrates its fast day separately from the rest of Switzerland. By the 1960s, Jeûne genevois was losing its religious significance, and in 1966, it was finally declared a public holiday, with the date fixed as the Thursday following the first Sunday of September.
What to do on Jeûne genevois
Don't worry, you won't be expected to fast on Jeûne genevois - it has become increasingly secular over the past 100 years. The main thing to known about Jeûne genevois is that most of the schools, shops, banks and other businesses will be closed.
So, purchase your plum tart in advance, or you could even make your own! Plums are in season in the autumn, of course, so it's the ideal way to experience a bit of Genevan history and enjoy the local specialities for the day that's in it.