Many expats, particularly north Americans, may be surprised to discover that Halloween is not widely celebrated in Switzerland.
Long before Halloween existed, a Gaelic festival known as Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the descent into winter darkness. Some believed it was the time when the souls of the dead roamed the earth.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to come from an old practice of people disguising themselves as spirits and demanding rewards in exchange for good fortune. Impersonating departed souls was believed to offer protection from them.
One version of history suggests the Roman Catholic holy day of All Saints, or All Hallows, was shifted to 1 November in an attempt to supplant the pagan Samhain festival. However old festival habits die hard. Samhain continued as a separate celebration on 31 October cloaked in a new name: Halloween.
As Gaelic people migrated across the globe, Halloween travelled with them. And like Christmas, once it arrived in north America, it got a commercial makeover, propelling it further afield. The only real difference was the brand colour: pumpkin-orange rather than father-Christmas red.
Switzerland has put up a good fight, but like many places, it appears to be slowly succumbing to the commercial sirens of Halloween.
For most Swiss it is an unwelcome cultural import. For others, typically candy hungry children, it is a chance to have fun with face paint and pumpkins, and to scream around the neighborhood with friends in pursuit of a refined-sugar high.
A survey on the Le Matin website offers insight into how Swiss view Halloween. 72% think it is a commercial affair pushed by retailers that has no place in Switzerland, and only 21% plan to dress up for it. Those suffering from coulrophobia will be pleased to know that only 5% of them plan to dress as clowns – no laughing matter.
Halloween activities in Switzerland are more micro than macro. Smaller towns, where neighbours are more likely to know each other, tend to have the most eager trick-or-treaters. A large number of Anglo residents helps too. In Swiss cities Halloween is more likely to consist of Halloween-themed parties for young adults or jack’o lantern workshops for little ones.
At the same time there are a few events. For example the town of Moudon, Vaud, is offering a Halloween ghost tour.
Here are a few more in Vaud:
Zurich has a long list of Halloween-themed parties: click here and search “Halloween”.
Geneva offers few Halloween treats. One website, Know it all passport, lists a few, however most look a little commercial.
If this leaves you disappointed, don’t despair. Instead get your costume ready for Switzerland’s Fasnacht festival in March.