01 August 2023

1st of August in Switzerland: A vibrant celebration of history and national unity

by Redaction NOW Village


Switzerland’s bank holidays on August 1st has been celebrating the country’s history, unity and cultural diversity since the 14th century. Let’s take a look back at the history of this festival that brings the Swiss together in a spirit of national pride and commemoration of the founding of the Swiss Confederation.

The history of the Swiss National Day dates back to the 14th century, when the Swiss cantons began to form alliances to protect themselves from external conflicts. These alliances were mainly motivated by economic and military interests. The key political figures behind the founding of the Swiss Confederation are commonly referred to as the “three founding cantons”. They are :

  • Werner Stauffacher (Canton Schwyz): Werner Stauffacher was a military leader and politician from the canton of Schwyz. He played a crucial role in the creation of the alliance between the cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden (Nidwalden and Obwalden), known as the “Uri Alliance”, in 1291. This alliance laid the foundations for the Swiss Confederation and is considered to be one of the first acts in the founding of Switzerland.
  • Walter Fürst (Canton of Uri): Walter Fürst was a politician and military leader from the canton of Uri. He was also one of the signatories of the 1291 alliance. Walter Fürst is famous for his role in defending the freedom and independence of the Swiss cantons against Habsburg rule.
  • Arnold von Melchtal (Canton Unterwalden): Arnold von Melchtal, from the canton of Unterwald, was also one of the signatories of the 1291 alliance. His commitment to defending the rights and autonomy of the Swiss cantons contributed to the establishment of the Swiss Confederation.
The Federal Pact of August 1291 – This reproduction was scanned from Meyer, F. : Schweizergeschichte von der Bundesgründung bis Marignano, Lehrmittelverlag des Kantons Thurgau, Frauenfeld 1976.

These three political figures were the pillars of the initial alliance between the Swiss cantons and laid the foundations of the Swiss Confederation as we know it today. It should be noted that the Swiss Confederation has continued to develop and expand over the centuries, with the addition of new cantons and the evolution of its political structure, but these three founding cantons played an essential role in the creation of the Swiss Confederation.

It was not until the 19th century that 1 August was officially recognised as Switzerland’s bank holidays. In 1891, the Swiss government declared 1 August a bank holiday to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. This decision was widely supported by the Swiss people, who saw the date as a strong symbol of the country’s independence and unity.

The Swiss National Day is marked by various traditions and customs. One of the most emblematic traditions is the torchlight procession, in which the Swiss gather and march through the streets holding lit torches. This symbolises the light that guides and unites the Swiss people.

National holiday in Champéry, ©

Another important aspect of the celebrations is the lighting of the fire on 1 August. In many towns and villages, a bonfire is lit at dusk to symbolise national unity. Fireworks are also an essential part of the celebrations, lighting up the sky in brilliant colours and creating a festive atmosphere.

Swiss National Day is also an opportunity to celebrate the country’s cultural diversity. Each canton has its own traditions and customs, and National Day is an opportunity for the Swiss to come together and share these differences in unison. Families get together for picnics, barbecues and outdoor activities. Numerous concerts and cultural events are also organised to entertain the public. 

Giant Swiss flag on the north face of the Säntis | Fireworks in Lungern ©

This year, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Alain Berset, will be the guest of honour in Lausanne for his official address at Ouchy in the evening. At 11:00, the public will be able to celebrate the successes of local sports clubs, followed by an official speech at 20:00 by Alain Berset after Grégoire Junod, Mayor of Lausanne. There will also be musical interludes by Imelda Gabs. The festivities will conclude with a fireworks display over the lake at 10.15pm. Admission to all activities is free.

Find out more about the schedule of festivities for Swiss National Day on 1 August, with a host of events throughout Switzerland to be found on My Switzerland website.