As the days get shorter, the Swiss employ all kinds of ways to bring warmth back into their lives. These Swiss Christmas and New Year’s events in 2023 will help brighten 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 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 21 - Nov 25
It has become a tradition that light artists illuminate the Swiss Parliament Building in Bern. This year’s colorful light spectacle once again transports an important message. The theme "Mystic" at this year's Rendez-vous Bundesplatz offers a magical escape from the current turbulent times and societal uncertainties plaguing our planet.
It will be quite literally amazing to embark on a journey into an enchanted forest, not just home to deer, hares, and foxes, but also to fairies, dwarves, and other fabulous woodland creatures, diving deep into a realm of myths and fairy tales.
Zürich ZH: Illuminarium
Nov 9 - Dec 30
Colorful and quirky light projections and food stalls will once again brighten up the outdoor venues of the Swiss National Museum. Named “La Traviata reloaded,” 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.
The new Digital Art Show CYBER CITY immerses visitors in an unforgettable audiovisual experience with advanced moving heads, powerful projectors, and a glowing disco ball installation, perfectly synchronized to electro beats from artists like the Chemical Brothers, Sam Smith, Max Cooper, and Skrillex. Shows start at 8 PM every half hour, with the last performance at 9:30 PM.
And finally, 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 need a ticket to watch the animations.
Zürich ZH: Zauberpark am Flughafen Zürich
Nov 23 - Dec 10
The Circle Park at ZRH Airport has a whole bunch of Christmas spirit in store. Zauberpark am Flughafen Zürich activities for children include an interactive music theater and a magician. The dozen light installations along the panoramic trail will surely delight all ages. From animals to a rainbow-colored arch, there are plenty of Instagramable moments.
And for the grownups, the organizers have hired some of the best music acts in Switzerland. The stage offers nightly concerts by acts such as Baschi, Black Sea Dahu, or Lo & Leduc. Admission tickets are 19.80 francs for adults, although ZKB customers and their families receive a 20 percent discount.
Zürich ZH: The Singing Christmas Tree
Nov 23 - Dec 23
It would not be Advent in Zürich without the Singing Christmas Tree at Werdmühleplatz. And in 2023, this iconic Zürich Christmas tradition celebrates its 25th anniversary. On the weekend of December 2nd and 3rd, there will be special performances and shows to celebrate the anniversary of the Singing Christmas Tree.
If you have never experienced the carols, you might imagine 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 23 - Jan 6, 2023
The season's first lighting of the Zürich Christmas decorations is very popular among locals. Every last Thursday of November, locals will grab a cup of mulled wine and meet up along Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street.
On November 23 at 6 PM sharp, the 23’100 energy-saving LED lamps will turn on. Given that the lights change color in a continuous wave, the one-kilometer street becomes 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: Santa Run Running Event
Once a year, runners of all walks of life will wear a Santa costume and run through the old town of Bern. The Santa Run 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
Dec 1 - Jan 7, 2024
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.
The lights trail is open daily from 5 to 11 PM, and this year marks the 10th anniversary. On December 9 on the forest sofa, children can meet Swiss Santa.
Luzern LU: St. Niklaus Exodus
You have got to experience 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 address the community and walk through the crowds.
Starting from Kasernenplatz, the St. Niklaus will journey through Pfistergasse, Bahnhofstrasse, Krongasse, towards Kramgasse, Rössligasse, Hirschenplatz, Kapellplatz, Weinmarkt, and finally arrive at Mühleplatz.
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.
Every four minutes from 1:30 to 2:45 PM, 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.
Fribourg FR: St. Niklaus Festival
La Saint-Nicolas in Fribourg is a cherished annual event, celebrating the patron saint of students and the city itself. Held on the first Saturday of December, the festival transforms the city into a vibrant hub of activities and celebrations.
The day begins with a grand parade, featuring St. Nicholas himself, accompanied by his donkey and a host of angels, as well as other characters from local folklore. The parade winds its way through the city’s historic streets, captivating locals and visitors alike.
At the heart of the festivities is the St. Nicholas Cathedral, where a special service is held, and St. Nicholas addresses the crowd, sharing words of wisdom and encouragement, particularly aimed at the students. More information
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 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 walking through Unterägeri to marvel at the Iffälä lanterns displayed in shop windows. Look at this live map to locate the six Rottä characters as they make their rounds.
Geneva GE: Escalade Festival
Dec 8 - 10
The traditional Fête de l'Escalade is a highlight in Geneva every December. The citywide holiday commemorates an occurrence on the night of December 11 to 12, 1602.
Witness Europe's largest historical parade with 840 persons dressed in period costumes. With more than 2200 members, this represents the largest historical society in Switzerland. Within its ranks are citizens of all ages, origins, and beliefs.
Klosters GR: Sächsi Schällätä Bells
The Sächsi Schälläta in Klosters is a unique event on the last school day before the sports holidays. Children and adults parade through the village, making noise with Schällen bells to celebrate the beginning of winter. It's a lively tradition rooted in local customs, fostering community spirit and celebrating the upcoming holidays.
Lenzerheide GR: Magic Forest (Zauberwald)
Dec 15 - Jan 3, 2024
As if Lenzerheide wasn’t magical enough during the holidays, they are bringing back the popular Lenzerheide Magic Forest attraction for the 10th year in a row. This outdoor experience promises full Christmas immersion thanks to light installations, music, food, and a Christmas market.
Bligg, Anna Rossinelli, and Marc Sway are some of the high-caliber musical acts on the 2023 line-up. For the little ones, there will be a magic show and storytelling in the Zauberwald forest.
Weinfelden TG: Bochselnacht Living Tradition
On the Thursday of the last full week before Christmas, the elementary and secondary schools of Weinfelden celebrate Bochselnacht. Children and teenagers march through the town center after dark, carrying Bochseltiere, lanterns carved from turnips.
The procession ends on the town square. At school, the children and teenagers are served pretzels. And at 8 PM, the high school students perform a Bochselnacht play. Adults also enjoy the festivities, often with a meal of Böllewegge, a special onion bread, Ottenberger wine, and Salzis. The tradition is thought to be centuries old, but its origins are unknown.
Morcote TI: Novena di Natale
On Christmas Eve in Morcote, the community gathers to ring the church bells using hammers. The simple yet festive melodies are passed down orally by the most experienced bell ringers. The event is open to the public and draws visitors from all over the canton and nearby Italy.
In some villages in the canton of Ticino, during the Christmas Novena (nine days of devotional prayer), it is still common to ring the bells by hand. In Morcote, the bellringers gather in a room with a fireplace, a table, and wooden benches in the bell tower. This ritual is a moment of social interaction and sharing as volunteers take turns climbing up to ring the bells.
Tradition has it that those who visit the bell tower bring a bottle of wine, a string of pork sausages, or a piece of cheese to share with whoever else is there.
Sissach, Ziefen, Arboldswil BL: Nünichlingler Parade
On Christmas Eve, a group of men in black coats and tall cylinders march through the villages of Sissach, Ziefen, and Arboldswil. The men, known as Nünichlingler, are silent as they ring bells, creating a haunting sound. The tradition is considered a noisemaking ritual that originated in the Middle Ages.
The Nünichlingler are led by the Bäsemaa, who wears a white beard and a long pole with a black rag. The other men wear tall cylinders, which they compete to make as tall as possible. The procession follows a set route through the villages and lasts about 45 minutes.
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 worldwide. 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 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...
Zürich ZH: New Year’s Eve Fireworks Display
Usually, more than 150'000 visitors attend the big New Year's Eve party in Zürich. The highlight of Silvesterzauber event is the impressive fireworks display. Twenty minutes after midnight, a beautiful fireworks display appears above the lake.
From 2 PM, the lakeside will feature various vendors. Admission to the festival grounds is free of charge. There will be additional late-night connections on public transport.
Klosters GR: New Year’s Day Pig Races (Hotschrennen)
Jan 1, 2024
A pig race in the middle of town! How could we skip this most 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, 2024
Then, at 5 PM, lean back in the comfy seats of the KKL concert hall. The New Year’s concert by Luzerner Sinfonieorchester is entitled "Le Grand Tour d’Europe" and promises a musical journey from the 19th to 20th century. We will start in Spalato and enjoy works from renowned composers like Strauss and Rodrigo.
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 tourism board and the hotels of Luzern sponsor the 15-minute Neujahrszauber fireworks. Could this be, hands down, the best way to end the first day of 2024?
Luzern LU: Light Festival Lucerne – Lilu
Jan 11 - 21, 2024
A festival at the cold start of the year: with its warm lights, Lucerne's fifth annual "Light Festival Lucerne - Lilu" will enchant you.
Lucerne transforms into a light-filled wonderland every night from 6 to 10 PM. Once again, the Lilu Light Festival Lucerne features artists from all over the world who exhibit creative light installations. The various squares and alleys in the old town will be artfully illuminated, offering entertainment designed to appeal to all senses.