Is Halloween celebrated in Switzerland?
While it may be an “imported tradition” from America, many expats and an increasing number of locals in Switzerland are starting to embrace Halloween as passionately as those from across the pond. Here’s what you need to know about the history of Halloween in the alpine nation and whether it is actually celebrated nationwide.
History of Halloween
The concept of Halloween has its origins in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, the festival of the dead that was held on the night between October 31 and November 1. According to folklore, during the night the shroud between the living world and the dead is said to be at its most fragile, allowing supernatural beings and the souls of the dead to enter the living world.
The word “Halloween” derives from “All Hallows’ Eve”, the evening before the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ Day) on November 1. Despite starting out as a pagan tradition, the festival of Samhain was largely incorporated into the three days surrounding All Saints’ Day called Allhallowtide, with church leaders dedicating the period to the commemoration of the saints and loved ones who have passed away.
When and how did modern Halloween start?
Of course, the Halloween that most are familiar with today is from the United States. The event was first popularised in the country thanks to the arrival of a large number of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th century. The tradition of Halloween was absorbed by the wider population by the early 1900s.
Many of the symbols associated with Halloween - Jack-o’-lanterns, scarecrows and black cats - are from Scots and Irish folklore. Trick-or-treating came from the Scottish and Irish practice of “guising” - children disguised in costumes going from door to door to ask for food or coins.
The modern costumes of Halloween also borrow heavily from Gothic and horror stories, which were brought to a mass audience by Hollywood films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Today, characters from films, famous people and book characters have all become acceptable Halloween costumes.
Does Switzerland celebrate Halloween?
Like much of continental Europe, the question of whether Halloween is celebrated in Switzerland is quite complex. With its modern form having its origins in America, many across Swiss cities and cantons have dismissed the tradition as another form of “Americanisation”, especially given how commercialised the holiday can seem.
It also doesn’t help that the event takes place just a day before All Saints’ Day - a long-established public holiday in parts of 15 different Swiss cantons. Many have also accused Halloween of being an imitation of Saint Martin’s Day, a traditional holiday just two weeks after Halloween.
On this day, children in a scattered number of Swiss towns including Payerne and Mendriso parade in the streets with homemade paper or turnip lanterns, and sometimes even call into people’s houses to sing songs in exchange for sweets. So - as you can probably imagine - some people see no need to have yet another spooky holiday over this period.
Despite this, with the arrival of new expats and internationals, the idea of celebrating Halloween has grown in popularity in Switzerland. In recent years, bars and clubs have begun to hold special Halloween nights, with trick-or-treaters also becoming an increasingly regular sight.
Is Halloween a public holiday in Switzerland?
Sadly, Halloween is not a public holiday in any part of Switzerland. It is held on October 31 each year.
How do the Swiss celebrate Halloween?
Here are some of the ways people in Switzerland celebrate Halloween.
Dressing up in Halloween costumes
If you’ve ever been to Basel Fasnacht, you’ll know that the Swiss are not afraid to ditch work clothes and don costumes of great colour and character. However, the idea of adults wearing costumes to work on Halloween is something that remains quite rare, so don’t expect to see witches or ghouls on the train in the morning - and those who look like zombies are likely just tired.
Nevertheless, many Swiss children still don the spooky garb on Halloween, with some schools, especially international ones, holding costume parties and events on the day. Most costumes are inspired by the traditional American style - princesses, dragons, clowns, cowboys, witches, wizards, you name it.
Is trick or treating a thing in Switzerland?
An increasingly popular but still quite rare pastime is for children to go out in their costumes trick or treating. The streets won’t be awash with children with empty baskets as is the case with American suburbia, but you will still see a fair few costume-cladded kids braving the weather to get themselves some delicious sweets and unwanted apples.
The German version of the classic Halloween phrase “trick or treat?” is “Süsses oder Saures” (“sweet or sour”) or the slightly more ominous “Süsses sonst gibt’s Saures” (“Sweets or there will be sour things”).
If you are unsure which houses or apartments will be offering sweets, be sure to look out for Halloween decorations. However, if you want to guarantee that sweets will be available, many international schools and expat groups offer trick-or-treating events like trunk-or-treating - where expat families park up together in the car park of school with boots (or trunks) full of treats.
Arguably the tradition that has been embraced by the alpine nation the most is the tradition of Halloween pumpkins. In some parts of the country, you’ll see a sea of different carved designs lit up by the candles within the pumpkin, called Jack-o'-lanterns. Swiss supermarkets are well aware of the tradition, selling different-sized pumpkins in the lead-up to October 31.
Things to do on Halloween in Switzerland
While there aren’t any major events on Halloween in Switzerland, there are still plenty of activities well worth doing on the night. Here are some of our favourites:
Halloween at the Jucker Farm
It’s hard to find any expat who grew up in and around Zurich who hasn’t visited the Jucker Farm at some point, and around Halloween, the interactive farm famous for its pumpkin festival truly comes alive. With Halloween pumpkin carving from 10am to 4pm on October 31, and a stunning illuminating pumpkin display on every day at 5pm from October 29, a visit to Seegräben in spooky season is well worth it!
Cut out the middle man by visiting a Swiss chocolate factory
Why bother trick or treating for chocolate when you can take a trip to the source? On October 31, the Maison Callier Factory in Broc Canton Fribourg will open its doors to costumed children and adults only, all for free. Learn how the delicious chocolate is made, or try making it yourself at their Halloween Chocolate Champion workshop!
Take a tour of a spooky place in Switzerland
Halloween is also a great time to take a tour of some of Switzerland’s spookiest places, with many castles and other venues offering special Halloween tours in the late evening. Some of the highlights include a Halloween tour of the Bex salt mines in Vaud and the ghost tour in Moudon (Vaud).
Hit the club on Halloween
Finally, no list of things to do on Halloween would be complete without mentioning the adult costume parties. Nightclubs and bars across Switzerland will put on special Halloween evenings in the weekend leading up to the day and on the night itself, with special cocktails and prizes for those decked out in the best costumes. Zum Wohl!
Halloween in the alpine nation
Whatever you choose to do this Halloween, be it dress up, trick or treat or dance the night away, we hope you have fun! Considering how fast Halloween has caught on in Switzerland, who knows what the future of spooky season has in store?