Helvetic.LA

LA's virtual Swiss neighborhood!

Of Sundays and other holy-days

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“Guest blogger and soon-to-be LA visitor, Bern-based Diccon Bewes, will share some of his fun observations about Switzerland through the eyes of a British expat. Diccon’s stories remind us “Auslandschweizer” about our homeland’s quirkyness – and offers a “Swissness Manual” for non-Swiss friends trying to figure out why we Swiss are sometimes… …quirky.

Save the date: on Thursday, June 23rd, Diccon will be at the Beverly Hills Hotel for an evening hosted by the Chariman and Board of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Come join us, have fun, and take home a signed copy of “Swiss Watching” (email SwissCenterLA@gmail.com for pre-purchase opportunity at a special price)” M:)

Public holidays in Switzerland can be a minefield for unsuspecting visitors – and expats. It’s all down to holidays being mainly holy-days and so can pretend to be Sundays. And Swiss Sundays are still special.

Today is Auffahrt. At least it is in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland; elsewhere it’s Ascension or Ascensione. Whatever you call it, it’s a public holiday to celebrate Jesus going home. Before I came to Switzerland, I was a bit hazy about the exact timing and meaning of Ascension Day, mainly because it isn’t a holiday in Britain. We have the much catchier name of Early May Bank Holiday, which does exactly what it says on the packet. But in Switzerland, most public holidays are still linked to religious festivals, so I discovered that Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter, and is the moment when Jesus ascended heavenwards – which in German has the unfortunate name of Auffahrt. It can’t have been much fun up there for Mr Christ. Given that Heaven as we know it is essentially a Christian concept, it would have been empty back in 33AD as there were as yet no dead Christians. And not even St Peter to welcome you through the Pearly Gates, as he was still down on earth fretting about having betrayed Jesus three times in one evening.

In Switzerland, public holidays count as Sundays, at least in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not. So that means no shopping, no DIY, no recycling and no mowing the lawns. And since public holidays are classed as Sundays, it follows that the day before them are Saturdays (even if they are not), when shops have to close earlier than normal. For example, yesterday was a Wednesday officially but was actually a Saturday in shopping terms because the next day was Ascension Day, which is a holiday, ie a Sunday. So this week is rather odd: essentially it’s Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And because Ascension Day is always a Thursday, many people make a bridge by taking a day off for a four-day weekend. The shops are open, but many offices aren’t.

But when the day before a holiday is actually a Sunday, then it clearly can’t be a Saturday, since Sundays take precedence. This only happens for the date-related holidays, such as Christmas, New Year and Swiss National Day (1 August), which wander through the week. Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and 31 July are thus logically always Saturdays, except when they fall on Sundays, when they stay as Sundays. Got that? The thing is that even if you live here, you tend to forget that the day before a holiday is a Saturday, meaning that the shops shut early. Just ask my friends who ended up at the convenience shop in the petrol station at 6.30pm on Wednesday evening, looking for food.

At least Ascension Day is recognised by all the cantons. There’s nothing worse than planning a day-trip somewhere, only to get there and find that that canton has a holiday the next day, so everything shuts early. Sorry, there is something worse: to get there and discover everything is shut because it’s a holiday. It happens. All the time, because this is Switzerland, where cantons decide their own holidays, so some have more than others.

The best canton to live in is Ticino, the Italian-speaking one south of the Alps, and not just for the food. The rest of Switzerland may cast aspersions on the Ticinese work ethic, or lack thereof, but it’s surely no coincidence that this is the canton with more public holidays than any other. In addition to the seven recognised nationally, the Ticinese get another eight to enjoy. That’s fifteen in total. They need to celebrate events like Epiphany, St Joseph’s Day, Labour Day and the day of Sts Peter and Paul, the canton’s patron saints. I wonder how much flats are in Lugano; maybe I should move there and get almost two more weeks off work?

Written by swisswatching

June 2, 2011 at 3:44 am

Posted in Little Switzerland

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