SUISSE news Winter 2018
Tourism | Entertainment | Arts and Culture | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
December 2018

Christmas in Canada and Switzerland

(Kurt Schläpfer)
In the English speaking part of Canada, Christmas is predominantly influenced by traditions from Great Britain and the United States. In contrast, Christmas in Switzerland is mainly based on traditions coming from Germany and France. But in the age of multiculturalism these influences are merging, especially in Canada, where many families come from Europe or have European ancestors.

Christmas in Canada

At the beginning of the Christmas season, Canadians decorate their houses with Christmas trees, Santa Claus figures, glowing reindeers and other decorations. They often start with the decoration as early as mid-November. In December, Christmas songs are played in all major shopping centers throughout the day.

Sending Christmas cards to family and friends is still a popular tradition. Many Christmas cards include a family picture and a letter telling what the family did throughout the year. In many houses, the Christmas cards are displayed on the mantelpiece.

Canadian children believe in Santa Claus who enters homes via the chimney and leaves presents and candy in Christmas stockings. Santa Claus is the commercialized version of Saint Nicholas who was a Bishop living in the fourth century in Asia Minor. Some believe that Canada is the home of Santa Claus. Santa Claus appears already in November when the annual Santa Claus Parade is held in many Canadian cities, notably in Toronto where it is a huge event with more than 500,000 spectators.

On Christmas Day (December 25), many Canadians spend the day with close relatives or friends. They exchange gifts and enjoy a festive meal. 

Traditionally, for the English Canadians, the main Christmas meal includes a roast goose or beef and plum pudding.

The day after Christmas, December 26, is a public holiday in five provinces and territories. It is called "Boxing Day" because – in old Britain – servants had a day off and would receive a gift box on this day. In most areas, stores, malls and retailers are open. Boxing Day is a day of discounted sale prices which attract large numbers of shoppers. Major sporting events, especially hockey, are also played on December 26.   

Christmas in Switzerland

Switzerland has the tradition of counting the days until Christmas Eve. This is done with an Advent calendar. The calendar has 24 little doors, one for each day from December 1. When opened they reveal an image or a chocolate item. A similar tradition is the Advent wreath (Adventskranz) which is decorated with four large candles. The first candle is lit on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve and then every week an additional candle is lit. 

In Switzerland Santa Claus is known as "Samichlaus" making his visits on 6th December. He does not bring gifts but a huge bag filled with chocolates, peanuts and mandarins for everyone to share. The "Samichlaus" is accompanied by his helper "Schmutzli" who is usually dressed in black clothes: 

In the course of December, most Swiss families bake several batches of Christmas cookies. There are different kinds: "Zimtsterne", "Chräbbeli", "Mailänderli" and "Brunsli", to name a few.

December 24 is "Heiliger Abend" (Holy Night). The evening may start with a sumptuous dinner. A popular food, especially for large families, is cheese or meat fondue. Then, the family sits in front of the Christmas tree which is decorated with Christmas balls, small ornaments and candles (or electric lights). Wrapped gifts are placed underneath. Also placed at the foot of the tree is a Christmas crib with figures from the Nativity scene. After singing some Christmas carols, especially "Stille Nacht" and opening the gifts, many Swiss families go to local churches to attend the Midnight Mass.

In Switzerland, December 26 is known as "Stefanstag", an extra holiday on which all stores are closed.

Typical outdoor Christmas decoration in North America    
SCCC Corporate Members
  • Zurich Canada
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  • Custom Spring Corporate
  • Rolex Canada Ltd.
  • Lette LLP
  • Roche Canada
  • Swissmar Ltd.
  • Switzerland Tourism
  • Swiss Business Hub
  • Endress + Hauser Canada Ltd
  • Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
  • Habib Canadian Bank  (Subsidiary of Habib Bank AG Zurich)
  • Hilti (Canada) Corporation
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