As the days are getting shorter, the Swiss employ all kinds of ways to bring back some warmth into their lives. All kinds of Swiss Christmas and New Year’s events in 2021 help brighten up the festive season.
I remember seeing my first illuminations in Japan some 20 years ago. An entire shopping arcade in Kobe was brightly lit with colorful lamps and festive music. In the past few years, Switzerland has caught up. It has graduated from traditional Christmas markets to include more elaborate holiday events.
From Bern to Zurich, there are now numerous ways to experience the Christmas season in Switzerland. Some events involve projections and illuminations, while others are based on the tradition of Swiss Santa.
Here is our guide of hand-picked Swiss Christmas and New Year's events. Search it by canton abbreviation:
Bern BE: Rendez-vous Bundesplatz
Oct 16 - Nov 20
It has become a tradition that light artists illuminate the Swiss Parliament Building in Bern. This year’s colorful light spectacle transports an important message: Planet Hope - Comeback takes us on a journey to the parts of the world where nature is under siege. It will be quite literally amazing to stand on this large square in Bern and watch the rainforest, the Arctic, or a Swiss glacier as they are projected onto the Bundeshaus - sounds included.
Zürich ZH: Illuminarium
Nov 11 - Dec 30
Colorful and quirky light projections, as well as food stalls, will once again brighten up the outdoor venues of the Swiss National Museum this season. Named “Arctic Christmas”, this animated movie for families plays nightly from 5 PM. Starting at 8 PM, the building’s facade switches gears as animations of international studios and a Swiss university are screened.
Meanwhile, there is a food market in the inner courtyard. And those who want to cozy up with friends and colleagues can enter the chalet. The restaurant serves fondue, and even illuminated cocktails. Admission to Illuminarium is free, but you will need a ticket to watch the animations.
Luzern LU: Winter Wonderland
Nov 18 - Dec 31
For the first time this season, Switzerland's largest illuminations will brighten up the night at the Lido in Luzern. More than 120 life-sized animals, as well as hundreds of objects, are represented by colorful lights. Imagine all the magic that half a million of LED lamps can do!
Winter Wonderland is open Thursdays through Sundays, as well as on Dec 6, from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM. A valid Corona certificate is required.
Lausanne VD: Festival Lumières
Nov 24 - Dec 24
The Festival Lumières is one of Switzerland's largest displays of lights. For this year’s 10th anniversary, eight of Lausanne’s most iconic buildings and monuments will be lit with elaborate projections.
Each night starting at 6:30 PM, experience how local artists “dress up” buildings such as the cathedral or the Tour de Bel-Air as part of Festival Lumières. Free guided tours in French are available as well.
Zürich ZH: Hotel Noël Opening
What a creative idea: ten artists have been commissioned to go to town inside Zürich’s hotels. Each has designed a unique, bookable Christmas room. One promises a 70s experience while another room features Christmas-inspired photography.
On the date of the official launch from 6 to 10 PM, each of the ten Hotel Nöel rooms will be open to the public (valid Covid certificate required). This is a unique chance to see inside such prestigious hotels as Storchen Zürich, or boutique gems like the 25hours Hotel Langstrasse. And if this were not enough, the artists will actually be on-site, explaining their concepts to those who are stopping by.
Zürich ZH: The Singing Christmas Tree
Nov 25 - Dec 23
It would not be advent in Zürich without the Singing Christmas Tree at Werdmühleplatz. Now, if you have never experienced the carols, you might imagine quite literally a singing tree. In reality, the setup is slightly different: every night, different choirs from Switzerland would climb the giant Christmas tree to sing carols. One evening, there might be a kids’ choir while on the next, a choir performing American Christmas songs.
(Photographs copyright Roland Schmid/The Singing Christmas Tree Zürich)
Performances are Mondays through Thursdays at 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. On Fridays, there is an additional performance at 7:30 PM. And on weekends, choirs will sing at 2:30 PM, 3:30 PM, 5:30 PM, and 6:30 PM.
Zürich ZH: Lighting of the Lucy Christmas Decorations
Nov 25 - Jan 6, 2022
The season's first lighting of the Zürich Christmas decorations is a popular happening among locals. Every last Thursday of November, locals will grab a cup of mulled wine and meet up along Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street.
At 6 PM sharp, the 23’100 energy-saving LED lamps will turn on. Given that the lights change color in a sort of continuous wave, the one-kilometer street turns into a cheerful place for the weeks to come. The “Lucy” lights in Zürich are turned on nightly, and we can recommend viewing them during rain and snow when they reflect off the street. Make a detour onto Rennweg or Neumarkt for yet different atmospheres. More information
Bern BE: Santarun Running Event
Once a year, runners of all walks of life will put on a Santa costume and run through the old town of Bern. The Santarun starts at 7:30 PM and is quite an unusual sight for onlookers. Each participant will receive a Santa outfit - or they can wear their own. The sheer mix of runners, including many families, makes this one of those unmissable Swiss Christmas events during advent.
Baar ZG: Lichterweg
Nov 26 - Jan 9, 2022
Imagine an enchanted trail lit up by 2000 LED lights. At the foot of the Baarburg hill, the organizers have set up a 1.5-kilometer, one-way trail for all ages: Lichterweg Baar. Start from Kapelle Heiligkreuz and keep a safe distance between groups. (Daily from 5 - 11 PM)
Aigle VD: Illuminations
Dec 1 - 31
After dusk, the historic town hall of Aigle is once again taking on a new character this holiday season. Nightly projections by the young artist, Camille Scherrer, showcase the town hall at Place du Marché through time. Given the artist’s background as a mapping specialist, these illuminations promise to be a fascinating time-traveling experience.
Küssnacht am Rigi SZ: Klausjagen Procession
Here is a St. Nicholaus tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Klausjagen is one of the most impressive displays of handmade lanterns. Up to 250 of them will light up the night once the town turns dark at 8:15 PM sharp. Amid all of them is St. Nicholaus with his sidekick, Schmutzli. And at the tail of the parade, the actual “Klausjäger” with large bells would follow.
The procession through Küssnacht am Rigi commences at Seebodenstrasse and reaches the Bahnhofstrasse approximately one hour later. Find more information about a later procession at 10 PM on the website.
Unterägeri SZ: Chlauseslä
Chlauseslä is a tradition local to the town of Unterägeri. This impressive Swiss winter tradition dates back to the 16th century. In the afternoon, school kids beg for small gifts by knocking on windows with a sort of hobbyhorse donkey.
But like last year, the organizers have called off the night parade. We still recommend taking a walk through Unterägeri to marvel at the Iffälä lanterns displayed in shop windows. Have a look at this live map to locate the six Rottä characters as they make their rounds.
Luzern LU: St. Niklaus Exodus
We have previously experienced the century-old St. Niklaus Exodus tradition in Luzern. At the stroke of 5 PM, the catholic St. Niklaus will leave the magnificent Hofkirche in Lucerne through the front door and appear on top of the large steps. Surrounded by gnomes and singers, he will then address the community and proceed to walk through the crowds.
Rendez-vous Bundesplatz screens nightly at 7 PM, 8 PM, and 9 PM. Each cycle takes 30 minutes and is free of charge. A valid Covid certificate is required.
Zürich ZH: St. Niklaus Swimming (Samichlaus-Schwimmen)
Every year, the second-largest winter swimming event in Switzerland attracts hundreds of... Santas! These freeze-proof swimmers will leap into the River Limmat at Pier 7 in order to swim to the Frauenbad at Stadthausquai.
From 1:30 to 2:45 PM, every four minutes, a new batch of Santas will make the 111-meter crossing. While the Samichlaus-Schwimmen event is fun to watch for all ages, the Santas’ entry fees also support charitable causes.
Lenzerheide GR: Magic Forest (Zauberwald)
Dec 10 - 30
As if Lenzerheide wasn’t magical enough during the holidays, they are bringing back the popular Lenzerheide Magic Forest attraction. This outdoor experience promises full Christmas immersion thanks to light installations, music, food, and a Christmas market.
Geneva GE: Escalade Festival
Dec 10 - 12
The traditional Fête de l'Escalade is a highlight in Geneva every December. The citywide holiday commemorates an occurrence that took place on the night of December 11 to 12, 1602. Witness Europe's largest historical parade with some 800 persons dressed in period costumes.
Kandersteg BE: Pelzmartiga Living Tradition
If you need a thrill on Christmas Day (or on New Year’s Day), head straight to the town of Kandersteg. All kinds of strange fur creatures will be parading through town, with each costume being inspired by a type of danger the locals have faced in the past. The loud and terrifying fur yeti, child eater, or pine man can be seen in the streets and pubs from noon onwards.
Wengen BE: Forest Christmas (Waldweihnacht)
Christmas in the Forest is Wengen's way of spreading holiday cheer. At 4 PM, those who want to take part will start to walk from Eigerhubel to the Flühlenboden forest. Once there, enjoy mulled wine, sing Christmas carols, and participate in English, catholic and protestant sermons.
Appenzell Ausserrhoden AR: Silvesterchlausen Living Tradition
According to the Gregorian calendar, December 31 is considered New Sylvester. On this day, groups of men dressed in traditional costumes will scour the countryside as they visit the farms and towns. You can best witness the fascinating Silvesterchlausen living tradition in the communities of Urnäsch, Schwellbrunn, Herisau, Hundwil, Waldstatt, Stein, and Teufen.
Lausanne VD: New Year’s Eve Concert & Cathedral Illuminations
With its 7000 pipes, the great pipe organ at the Lausanne Cathedral is unique in the world. At 10:30 PM on New Year’s Eve, you can enjoy an organ concert entitled “Fireworks.”
Then, at midnight, participate in the century-old tradition of Embrasement de la Cathédrale. Lausanne residents would gather at the Gothic cathedral every New Year’s Eve shortly before midnight. At the stroke of midnight, the cathedral is being illuminated with fires that have been placed on the bell tower’s three stories. Do as the locals do and toast to the New Year with champagne or mulled wine...
Klosters GR: New Year’s Day Pig Races (Hotschrennen)
Jan 1, 2022
A pig race in the middle of town! How can we skip such a unique event to kick off the New Year? Every New Year’s Day, Klosters hosts a reception with live music and the Hotschrennen. From 3 to 6 PM, watch the cute hogs with names such as “Speedy” as they cross the finish line...
Luzern LU: New Year’s Day Fireworks Display (Neujahrszauber)
Jan 1, 2022
Why not start the New Year by skating on Luzern’s ice rink? The admission for Live on Ice is free, and the rink will only be up through January 2.
Then, at 5 PM, lean back in the comfy seats of the KKL concert hall. The New Year’s concert by Luzerner Sinfonieorchester will be highlighting three music pieces by French composers. You will be traveling to Andalusia in southern Spain before the climactic Organ Symphony will remind you of the present space and time.
After grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls around the harbor area, find a good spot for the main event. The 15-minute Neujahrszauber fireworks are sponsored by the tourism board and the hotels of Luzern. Could this be hands down the best way to end the first day of 2022?