Candles, carols and the internet, please: Swiss Christmases that were

A woman douses a burning Christmas tree

Keeping a bucket of water close by is a necessary ritual when using real candles to light a tree.


What were the stories of Switzerland’s holidays past? A look through the archives reveals tales of tradition – some controversial – as well as a surprise or two.

A bright Christmas

On December 24, 1999, the year that came into existence, we reported that nine out of ten Swiss households put up a Christmas treeexternal link, with most preferring real candles rather than electric bulbs. 

In 2008 we wrote that candles not only illuminate trees in family homes but also in many churchesexternal link, even though open flames are banned in public places where more than 100 people can gather. The article stated that candles caused some 1,000 fires a year. 

Electric bulbs may save property and even lives, but they don’t save money. That was the story in 2010, when our reporter in Zurich foundexternal link that Swiss light decorations use nearly 100 gigawatt hours of electricity – the equivalent of the annual electricity costs for 25,000 households.

A traditional Christmas

If a study concluded at Bern University in 2006 is to be believed, the Swiss will continue putting real candles on their trees for some time to come. The survey looking into family ritualsexternal link stated that tree decorating, gift giving, carol singing and children reciting verses are still part of a typical Swiss family Christmas. In another survey, this one from 2011, one in three Swiss said they would be attending a worship serviceexternal link at Christmas. 

But why do we do what we do at Christmas? In this 1970 special aired on Swiss Radio International,’s predecessor, we hear an analysis from famed Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, on the origin of some traditions.

Exterior shot of C.G. Jung Institute, with statue in foreground

SRI archive – 1970
Jung on Christmas traditions

Excerpts from an interview with Carl Gustav Jung, first conducted at his home in the 1950s.

A white Christmas

After the gifts have been unwrapped, the carols sung and candles blown out, the Swiss head for the hills to ski – a very popular pastime in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. On Christmas Eve 2005, we reported that holiday accommodation in ski resortsexternal link was solidly booked thanks to early snowfall in the Alps. But snow isn’t always a sure thing in late December, as this report from last year showed. 

A wired Christmas

In 2000, the Swiss government wanted to give every school an internet connection for Christmas. Then-economics minister Pascal Couchepin said in a newspaper interviewexternal link published on Christmas Eve that it was the government’s goal to wire all schools to the World Wide Web. Only a year before, mobile phones were hot items under Swiss trees. In this report, a retailer commented: “A husband’s typical Christmas present for his wife this year is a feminine-design mobile phone.”

A mobile phone held up in a hand

The future of mobile telephony, as predicted in 1999


A spacey Christmas

Scientists had their wish come true on Christmas Day in 2004. That was when the Huygens probe, in preparation for a landing on Saturn’s largest moon Titan, began separating from its mother ship, Cassini. We reported that the Swiss company Contraves Space built the mechanisms needed for the separation that took place three billion kilometres away in outer space.  

A dangerous Christmas

More trees were knocked down by the storm called “Lothar” on December 26, 1999, than were felled to decorate homes. Dubbed the hurricane of the century, Lothar took down some 13 million cubic metres of timber. In response, the government pledged about half a billion francs in assistance to repair damage and aid those affected. A Swiss Radio International report from the time tells the full story.

Terrorism was considered the No. 1 threat during the 2015 holiday season. Following the shocking attacks on venues in Paris in November of that year, the Swiss governmentexternal link announced it was creating dozens of new posts to fight terrorism. At the same time, Geneva was on alert looking for suspects in connection with an ongoing investigation into a possible terrorist attack.

There was good news for Switzerland’s Marco Weber on Christmas Day 2013. Deemed no longer a threat by the Russian government, the Swiss Greenpeace activist learned on December 25 external linkthat all charges against him and other members of the environmental organisation had been dropped. 

The group was detained in September of the same year when protesting against Russian preparations to drill for oil in the Arctic.

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