7 living Swiss Traditions
Updated: Sep 21
Switzerland is full of living traditions - here is a selection of our preferred ones:
"Schwingen" is a form of wrestling that started as a hobby among farmers and herders. The two opponents fight in a sawdust ring with the aim to throw the other wrestler on to his back. Each match begins and ends with a handshake, and the winner must always brush the sawdust from the loser’s back. One of the major competitions is the Swiss Wrestling and Alpine Games Festival taking place every 3 years – next time in 2022 – but there are several local events all over Switzerland throughout summer and autumn.
Another big event in the world of “Schwingen” is the Unspunnenfest in Interlaken, organized every 6 years, but this point is dedicated to another sport activity taking place at this event: The tossing of the Unspunnenstein: a 83.5 kg stone. Since 1808 the stone is tossed at the Unspunnen competition and a few other events. The winner is the competitor who manages to throw the stone the furthest, with the current record being 4.11 meters.
The stone also became famous because it was stolen from a museum in 1984 by separatists from the Jura. On August 12, 2001, it was returned, however, emblems had been carved into the stone which made it about two kilograms lighter, so nowadays a replica is used for the competitions. On August 20, 2005 the Unspunnenstein was stolen again, from its exhibition place in the Hotel Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken. A cobblestone with a painted Jura coat of arms remained at the scene.
There are around 20 000 people in Switzerland that yodel. Often the choirs perform in beautiful traditional costumes, but you can also encounter a group of hikers casually yodelling along their hike. There are two different types of yodelling: 'yodel songs' and 'natural yodelling'. Yodel songs use both strophic texts (usually about the love to the home country, the beautiful landscapes, etc.) and yodelling on syllables, while natural yodelling is exclusively sung on syllables.
Staying in the music domain, we of course have to speak about the alphorn. Originally, it was a tool used by shepherds to call the cows from the pastures into the barn at milking time and to communicate with other shepherds and the people in the valley. The alphorn slowly disappeared as a tool used by the shepherds but became more and more famous as a musical instrument.
Cattle ascent and descent
In spring the cows leave the stables and go up to the mountains where they stay until autumn. Both the ascent and descent are in many parts of Switzerland great celebrations where the cows are decorated with flowers and bells, and the farmers are dressed in their traditional outfits. Some of these events are accompanied by huge festivities with food stalls, music and many spectators but even at the small, less famous events spectators are very welcome. One of our preferred cattle ascents is in a village in Eastern Switzerland where they start the ascent at 5am in the morning. You are rewarded for your early rising with a mystical setting at dawn where you can already hear the bells ring and the farmers cheer from afar.
Also in autumn, the cattle shows take place. These are beauty events for the cows where the most beautiful and those with the best milk performance are awarded. The cattle shows are accompanied by market stands with local delicacies, alphorn music and yodelling.
This is one of Switzerland's traditional national sports that you have probably never heard of. Hornussen is a sport for every age and the aim is to hit the hornuss - a puck - as far as possible into the field of the opposing team which tries to stop it as quick as possible with big shovels/boards.