Why do most shops in Switzerland shut on Sundays?
When you walk down a street in Switzerland on a Sunday, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone had disappeared. The tradition of closing shops and not working on a Sunday is still a strong tradition in Switzerland, and remains a hotly debated topic in elections and referendums. Here's why.
Sunday shopping in Switzerland remains rare
Every Sunday in Switzerland, all shops that are not attached to airports or public transport close their doors for the entire day. The only exceptions to this are a few areas of Swiss cities and ski resorts that allow Sunday opening. Larger stores may also open on certain Sundays throughout the year, such as in the lead up to the Christmas holidays.
In Switzerland, you are expected to down tools and not work for the entire day, which is why most stores close. Those that do work on Sundays are strictly regulated by the government and richly rewarded through overtime.
Why are shops in Switzerland closed on Sundays?
The reason why shops shut on Sundays is mainly because of religion. In a Christian dominated country, Sunday is considered to be a day of rest where everyone should stop work, and, traditionally, go to church.
This was the case from the advent of Christianity in Switzerland. On March 7, 321 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine issued a civil decree making Sunday a day of rest from labour - a tradition that remains in Switzerland to this day.
Why do the Swiss continue to close shops on Sunday?
While religious influences in Switzerland have declined in recent decades, many Swiss still believe that not working on Sundays is a fundamental right. This means that shop workers, bankers and all tradesman should not open their doors and should instead take the day off, in what is perhaps one of the first-ever examples of trying to maintain a "work-life balance."
The hesitancy to open up businesses is reflected in the large number of elections and referendums held on the subject. In 2012, Eva Geel from the Unia trade union told Swissinfo, “In 90 percent of votes the people have said no to deregulation of night and Sunday work.” Votes in Zurich, Lucerne and many other cities attempting to “liberalise” opening hours have been rejected at the ballot box.
Limits of Sunday shopping in rural areas of Switzerland
In some areas, Sunday shopping is prohibited for a more practical reason. In areas of the Swiss mountains and more rural parts of the country, many do not have a regular supply of goods to facilitate long opening hours.
Another factor at play is the legal requirement to significantly increase workers' salaries when they work on Sundays. Many local shops therefore choose not to open on Sundays as a cost-saving measure.
So, what do Swiss people do on Sundays?
As the vast majority of people in Switzerland have Sunday off, and with most shops shut, many Swiss families take the day as an opportunity to spend time together and go on excursions. Hikes, cycle trips and visits to Swiss historical sites are some of the most popular activities.
The quieter streets also allow older people to visit Swiss cities in relative peace and tranquillity. With most shops closed, many areas of town are transformed from a bustling scene of noise and stress to one of semi-peacefulness.