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Swiss Carnival Traditions
Party-time in Switzerland

The Swiss Carnival is called "Fasnacht". And as it is custom in our neck of the woods, Fasnacht can differ from town to town. Over 200 carnivals take place throughout Switzerland, and though traditionally most last from Dirty Thursday to Ash Wednesday, some of them are celebrated anywhere between end of January and May. In fact, the largest Swiss carnival in Basel breaks with the tradition too and starts on Monday following Ash Wednesday.

Guggen musicians at a Swiss carnival

Swiss Carnival Terminology

I use a few expressions throughout the carnival calendar below that might need some explanation:

  • "Guggen" are groups of musicians playing out of tune - the louder and queerer the better
  • "Schnitzelbank", "Schnitzelbänke" or "Schnitzelbängg" are short verses in Swiss German with a comedic twist, spoken or in song form, with our without music. Politicians, famous people be aware, not even the Pope is off topic
  • "Tschääggättä" are scary figures with sinister wooden carved masked, an ancient pagan tradtition
  • "Chesslete" are noisy instruments such as bells and wooden percussion instruments, mostly used in Zug and Solothurn
  • Fire ceremonies:: "Chienbäse" are oversized wooden brooms that are set on fire - only celebrated in Liestal; "Chluri" is an elaborately carved wooden sculpture depicting each year a different public figure; the "Böögg" ("Rababou" in French) is a large snowman-like figure made of straw and fabric - a rag doll really or bogey man - filled with explosives that will be burned in certain places to chase away winter, the most striking once can be seen in Zürich, in Solothurn, in Fribourg and Winterthur
  • "Morgestraich" means the opening ceremony in the wee hours of the carnivals in Basel and Sissach.

List of the most impressive Swiss carnival traditions

Thun (BE)

28 January - 31 January 2016

Processions, street performances and party all night in the lakeside city of Thun. Children's fest on January 30. Program see here.

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Schaffhausen (SH)

29 - 31 January 2016

FAKOS, the Schaffhausen Carnival always takes place 1 week before Maundy (fat) Thursday. Here's the full program.

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Tschäggättä, Lötschental (VS)

02 - 09. Febraury 2016

Main Events:
04.02.: Traditional Tschäggättä parade in Blatten
06.02.: Large carnival procession in Wiler

Detailed info see here

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Fritschi Fasnacht Lucerne (LU)

04 - 09 February 2016

Lucerne carnival festivities begin with a loud boom at exactly 5 am, always on Dirty Thursday. But even before that Lucerne gears up to the Fasnacht with two carnival markets held before the official start.

Program see here.

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Olten (AG)

03 - 09 February 2016

Various events throughout the city.

Program see here.

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Sitten / Sion (VS)

04 - 08 February 2016

Program of Sion's carnival madness see here.

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Chesslete Solothurn (SO)

04 - 10 February 2016

More info on the 'foolish days' of Solothurn here.

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Carnival St. Gallen (SG)

04 - 09 February 2016

The program of the 'most beautiful time of the year' see here.

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Zuger Chesslete, Zug (ZG)

04 - 09 February 2016

More on the various events in Zug see here.

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Glarner Fasnacht, Glarus (GL)

05 / 13 / 14 February 2016

Parade, parties and market in the smallest cantonal capital of Switzerland, Glarus. Program see here.

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Alpenstadt Carnival Chur (GR)

05 - 10 February 2016

The Alpen city's various programs see here.

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Carnaval de Bolzes in Fribourg (FR)

07 - 09 February 2016

The Fribourg carnival Bolzes culminates in the burning of the Rababou on the last day. Full program see here.

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Biel/Bienne (BE)

10 - 14 February 2016

Biel (in German) and Bienne (in French), the lovely city on its namesake lake gets 'masked up' during the craziest time of year. Program see here.

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Bärner Fasnacht - Berne (BE)

11 - 13 February 2016

Even our capital gets a little crazy during its carnival. Program see here.

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"Les Brandons" in Payerne (VD)

12 - 15 February 2016

Usually six weeks before Easter, this medieval hamlet celebrates one of the oldest Swiss carnival traditions. Brandons-torches of straw are used to light the fire and chase winter away.

Full program see here.

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Winterthur (ZH)

12 - 15 February 2016

The Rosen city's carnival activites end with the burning of the Böögg (the boogie man) on the last day.

Full program see here.

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Chienbäsä and Carnival, Liestal (BS)

14 - 20 February 2016

The height of the carneval season in Liesthal is the "Chienbäsä" on 14 February at 7:15pm. Fire is an integral part of many rites and customs. The glowing "Chienbäsä torches" symbolize the sun that breaks the darkness of winter.

Program see here.

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Carnival Sissach(BL)

14 - 18 February 2016

Close to Basel, another colourful and interesting carnival takes place in Sissach. The most impressive events are the torch parade on Sunday, the "Morgenstraich" on Monday morning at 4am and the burning of the Chluri, a wooden figure depicting an official person. Kind of a funeral march as a good by to carnival and to a new start (fire ceremony - highly recommended) on the last day at 7:30pm.

Program see here.

Carnival Basel(BS)

15 - 17 February 2016

Always Monday to Thursday following Ash Wednesday

Switzerland's largest carnival starts with with a bang, the "Morgenstreich" at exactly 4am when the street lights are turned off. Fifer and drummers march through the streets, and carnival cliques carry big lanterns to illuminate downtowns dark streets and alleys. All day entertainment of Guggen concerts, processions and performances by a variety of cliques throughout downtown as well as in Restaurants, museums and theatres. Sunday-Matinee at the "Tramdepot BVB", starting at 11am. Die-hard carnival enthusiasts never miss this festival.

Program see here.

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Carnevale Rabadan, Bellinzona (TI)

27 February - 04 March

The largest Carnival in the Canton Tessin is called Rabadan and takes place in the castle city of Bellinzona. Program see here.

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Chalandamarz - Various villages in parts of Graubünden

1 March

The ancient tradition of Chalandamarz is a pagan festival and celebrates the beginning of spring. It takes place in the Engadin and Albula valleys, Val Mustair and Oberhalbstein, usually on March 1. However there are some events that take place one day earlier or later. So do check with the local tourism office before you go. One of the best can be seen in Guarda (Engadin).

More info see here.

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Groppen Carnival, Ermatingen (TG)

02 - 06 March 2016

Proudly named the 'last carnival in the world', the Groppen Carnival in Ermatingem boosts streets fests, cabarets, music, dance and parades.

Program see here.

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Swiss National Alpine Guggenmusic Meeting, Savognin (GR)

05 - 06 March 2016

If you haven't had enough of the "Guggenmuic" groups, then the Savogininer competitive Guggenmusic event is for you. Concerts, parties and dance until midnight.

Program see here.

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Sechseläuten Zürich (ZH)

17 - 18 April 2016

This is not exactly a carnival, but it is a spring celebration with a carnival-like character to chase winter away, always celebrated on the 3rd Monday of April. Rather than fantasy carnival costumes, the participant wear traditional and historical clothing.

More info see here.

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Carnival de Lausanne (VD)

29 - 30 April, and May 1, 2016

The carnival starts at the main square in the city center at 8pm on the first day and ends at 11pm on the last day.

The largest parades takes place on Sunday 10am and 2.30pm.

More info here.

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To give you a taste of what Schnitzelbängg are doing and how they sound, here a video by the group "Schuumschläger", Basel:

Please share if you think this info was helpful. Thank you!

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Date: 22.04.13
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