All you need to know about All Saints' Day in Switzerland
On November 1 every year, Catholics and other Christians around the world celebrate All Saints' Day. Here’s what you need to know about the celebrations, the history of the event and crucially, whether All Saints' Day is a national holiday in Switzerland.
What is All Saints’ Day?
All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen in German, Toussaint in French and Tutti i Santi in Italian), as the name suggests, is a Christian holiday designed to honour all the saints of the church who are said to have reached heaven. It has also become an occasion to remember loved ones who have passed away.
It is observed primarily by followers of the Catholic Church, but people belonging to a large number of different denominations still take part in the occasion. Some groups commemorate All Saints' Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day all together as part of a bigger season known as Allhallowtide. For those who follow this tradition, the three days are an opportunity to remember and commemorate the souls of the dead as well as Christian martyrs and saints.
Date of All Saints' Day
For Catholics and the majority of other denominations, All Saints’ Day is on November 1 every year. For Orthodox Christians, the occasion is observed on the Sunday after Pentecost, in what is known as All Saints' Sunday. In 2024 this will be on May 26.
History of All Saints’ Day
A feast day to celebrate all the Christian martyrs and saints was first documented in the 4th century. This celebration was first codified as "All Saints’ Day" by Pope Boniface IV in 609.
First All Saints' Day took place on May 13
However, the annual celebration was initially held on May 13 every year - the date when the pope dedicated the Pantheon in Rome as a church to celebrate and remember the Virgin Mary and all the saints. Experts have since claimed that Boniface chose May 13 because it was also the date of the Roman pagan festival Lemuria, which was designed to commemorate and appease the dead.
Why did the date switch to November 1?
The reason why the festival was then moved to November 1 is clouded by the fog of history. One account says that All Saints’ Day was moved when Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in honour of "all saints" on November 1, 731.
Others suggest that the celebration on November 1 has its origins in Ireland, northern England and Bavaria in the 8th and 9th centuries, with historians divided over whether the celebration was first dedicated to the commemoration of Christian saints or a replacement for the November 1 festival called Samhain - the Celtic festival of the dead which is said to have inspired Halloween.
What we do know is that All Saints’ Day on November 1 was proclaimed a Catholic holiday by Pope Gregory IV in 835 and has been celebrated on that day ever since. For Orthodox Christians, the celebration of all saints was incorporated into Pentecost in the 9th century, which is why the dates differ.
Who celebrates All Saints’ Day?
All Saints’ Day remains an important holiday for followers of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as a number of other Christian denominations. It is also a public holiday in over 40 nations around the world.
What do people do on All Saints’ Day?
All Saints’ Day is traditionally commemorated through mass, prayers and other sermons, before families and individuals go to the graves of loved ones, usually laying flowers. Alongside religious events, many countries and regions around the world have adopted their own traditions.
In France and the rest of the French-speaking world, flowers and specially arranged wreaths called the "Crowns of All Saints" are laid on tombs or graves to mark the occasion.
In Austria and Bavaria, locals observe the day by giving their family and relatives Allerheiligenstriezel - a braided yeast pastry bread with raisins and poppy seeds. In parts of Germany that observe All Saints’ Day, entertainment events are heavily restricted because it is known as a "silent holiday" - and so activities on that day should suit the solemnity of the occasion.
For instance, certain films are not allowed to be screened, and other activities like loud music and dancing in public spaces may be restricted.
Perhaps most famously, All Saints’ Day in Mexico coincides with the first Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). To celebrate the lives of those who have passed away, large parades and festivals are held and altars commemorating the dead are set up in homes, with attendants wearing traditional costumes, masks or makeup on their faces and bodies in the shape of skulls or Calaveras.
Is All Saints’ Day a holiday in Switzerland?
All Saints’ Day is a public holiday in parts of 15 different Swiss cantons. These are Aargau, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Fribourg, Glarus, Jura, Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden, St. Gallen, Solothurn, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, Valais and Zug. Of the 2.294 local councils in Switzerland, 922 give workers a day off on November 1 - accounting for around 40 percent of the country.
A general rule of thumb in German-speaking Switzerland is the more Catholic the community, the more likely All Saints’ Day is to be a holiday, but be sure to check with your local authority before you assume you can put your feet up! Also, bear in mind that holidays in Switzerland are not carried over if they fall on a weekend, so if November 1 is on a Sunday then you're out of luck. In 2023, November 1 falls on a Wednesday.
What do people in Switzerland do on All Saints' Day?
The vast majority of Swiss traditions on All Saints' Day are taken from France and Germany, with most people attending church or mass before visiting the graves of loved ones who have passed away and laying flowers, especially chrysanthemums.
However, the Aargauer Zeitung notes that Swiss farmers do have a uniquely Swiss superstition, believing that the weather on All Saints’ Day is able to predict the coming winter. If winter has not arrived by All Saints’ Day, the belief goes that it will not arrive until St. Martin’s Day on November 11.
If it rains on the day then the country will face heavy snow in the future; if it is clear and bright then winter is just around the corner; and if there is frost on All Saints’ Day then the coming winter will be bitter and cold.