Swiss Culture

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Switzerland covers an area of 41,290 square kilometres and acts as a point of transition between Southern and Northern Europe and between Latin and Germanic cultures. Switzerland’s physical environment consists of a chain of mountains (known as the Jura), the Alps range, and a densely urbanized plateau (Church, 1989). At the center of the country is Bern City, the country’s capital. Bern also doubles as the capital of the Bern’s German-speaking canton. Switzerland has four national languages, which include French, German, Italian, and Romansh (Church, 1989). The Swiss culture, therefore, has a rich diversity, which is reflected in most of the country’s customs and traditions (Ratajczak, 2014). Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, which also account for the country’s extensive cultural diversity. Switzerland’s Alps have made significant contributions to shaping the country’s history and culture (Ratajczak, 2014). This paper explores Switzerland’s culture, with the focus on its political system, holidays and celebrations, religions, arts and architecture, customs and practices, as well as the contributions of the Swiss culture to the global society.

Switzerland’s Political Makeup

            In the modern sense, Switzerland is not a nation-state, but an alliance of autonomous cantons that agreed to work together in 1848 under a federal constitution. The federal constitution transformed Switzerland into a federal state, with a central power to counterbalance the authority of the cantons (Church, 1989). However, the formulation of foreign policy is a responsibility of the central government. Switzerland's government consists of seven members, and a different member becomes the country's president every year. The position of the president is similar to that of a chairperson, and Switzerland's president also runs a ministry. Besides, the country's four major political parties are well-represented in the government (Church, 1989).

            Switzerland’s parliament has two chambers, which include the Senate (representing the cantons), and the House of Representatives (representing the citizens). The House of Representatives has 200 seats, which are shared by the cantons based on the proportions of their populations (Hess & Zajac, 2006). The country’s Senate has 46 members: each canton produces two members and the remaining members are drawn from each of the half-cantons. The two chambers have equal authority and none of the chambers has precedence. Both the Senate and the House approve all the federal laws and oversee all government projects (Hess & Zajac, 2006).

            The country's legislative process first involves the proposal of new legislation by a cabinet minister. The cabinet then persuades other government members to support the proposed law. Once other government members approve the proposed legislation, a bill is drafted and tabled before one of the parliamentary chambers (Ratajczak, 2014). If the first chamber approves the bill, the bill is sent to the second chamber for more deliberation. In other words, in Switzerland, a bill cannot become a law unless it is accepted by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The government of Switzerland gives its citizens the opportunity to directly participate in the country’s political decision-making through direct democracy. Swiss citizens have the right to propose legislation or reject the legislation already passed by parliament through interest groups (Ratajczak, 2014).

Holidays and Celebrations

            In Switzerland, holidays and celebrations form part of the most valued events by the Swiss people. The holidays and celebrations reflect the country’s rich diversity and depict some of the country's major traditions. The following are some of Switzerland's holidays and celebrations:

Escalade Geneva

            Every year, from 9th to 11th December, Genevans celebrate carnival in different costumes and disguises, in commemoration of the attack against the Savoyard soldiers, which occurred on the night of 11th

December 1602 (Hess & Zajac, 2006).

St. Nicholas’ Celebration

            On 3rd December, every year, Swiss people gather outside the Fribourg city cathedral to listen to St. Nicholas’ speech. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Fribourg city and the protector of children (Ratajczak, 2014).

Saignelegier’s Horse Show

            Every year, from 12th to 14th August, horse enthusiasts converge at Saignelegier during summer to exhibit their horses and the horses’ prowess. The Saignelegier’s Horse Show tradition has existed in Switzerland since the Nineteenth Century (Ratajczak, 2014).

Zibelemärit (Bern’s Onion Market)

            On the 28th of November, each year, Swiss people gather at the Bern’s autumnal market to showcase onions of different varieties, colors and sizes. During ibelemärit, Bernese farmers sell can sell up to ten tons of onions (Hess & Zajac, 2006).

Basel Fasnacht

            The Basel Fasnacht festival occurs on the 15th of February every year, and it forms one of Switzerland's largest carnivals, characterized by brass bands, drum beating, and carriage parades. The celebrations create a colorful hullabaloo, with thousands of people disguised in attractive outfits and carrying lanterns (Rossel & Schroedter, 2015).

The Sechseläuten

            The Sechseläuten is a celebration held on the 18th of April every year in Zurich, and it is characterized by the burning of Old Man Winter’s effigy. The straw effigy is placed on a bonfire and the duration it takes to burn indicates the type of weather the summer will bring. A shorter burning time predicts a warm summer (Zwingli, 1522).

Wrestling Festival in Schwägalp

            The festival is held on 14th August every year, and it forms one of Switzerland's most popular national sports. Other festivals that are valued by the Swiss people include dancing (held in Appenzell during mid-summer), the Engelberg livestock fair (held every year between mid-September and mid-October), and Yodeling, which takes place at the beginning of July each year (Ratajczak, 2014).

Religions in Switzerland

            Switzerland is predominantly a Christian nation, with about two-thirds of the country’s population being either Protestants or Roman Catholics (Rossel & Schroedter, 2015). In Switzerland, the freedom of religion is a primary constitutional right. About 38 percent of Switzerland’s population are Roman Catholics, while 27 percent of the Swiss population subscribe to the Mainstream Protestant church (Rossel & Schroedter, 2015). About 5 percent of the Swiss population belong to the Islam religion, and most Swiss Muslims originated from Turkey and the Balkans. The Jewish constitute about 0.3 of the Swiss population, while about 21.4 percent of the country’s population are not affiliated to any religion. Most of Switzerland's customs, festivals, and traditions have religious roots (Hess & Zajac, 2006).

Arts and Architecture


            Switzerland promotes a thriving arts scene and the country has a rich heritage of both contemporary and historical artefacts. Switzerland's central position in Europe, coupled with its shared languages and neutrality makes it attractive for several intellectuals and artists throughout Europe (Ratajczak, 2014). Art forms part of everyday life in Switzerland, and most Swiss people pursue their artistic talents during their leisure time. The various areas of art most explored by Swizz citizens include painting, wood carving, pottery, sewing, singing, and playing of instruments (Zwingli, 1522). The country has about 980 museums with public installations, as well as prominent art collections. Switzerland is also famous for its watches, and the watchmaking art began in Switzerland during the second half of the Sixteenth Century (Ratajczak, 2014).

            The country's arts programs are promoted and supported by Pro Helvetia, which is Switzerland's arts council, founded under the country's public law. Switzerland also has a rich art in the form of literature, which has been strengthened by the country's four national languages and the country's diversity (Rossel & Schroedter, 2015). Moreover, Switzerland has several fork music artists, whose musical compositions vary between the country’s regions. In general, Switzerland is surrounded by attractive artworks produced by several Swiss artists (Rosell & Schroedter, 2015).


            Switzerland has a strong architecture tradition, and the 12th century’s Romanesque style can be seen in several cathedrals across the country, including Lausanne, Basel, Geneva, Chur, and Sion (Church, 1989). The Romanesque style is rich in expression and it also used in several fortresses and castles across the country (Church, 1989). Other architectural styles include the Gothic style (which is found in the Zürich, Zug, and Schaffhausen cathedrals) and the Baroque style, which is found in St. Gallen and Einsiedeln churches (Church, 1989). A broad range of unique and high-quality architecture are available in Switzerland, and Switzerland's architecture is often considered by the rest of the world to be an innovative form of modern architecture. Some of the most famous Swiss architects include Mario Botta, Pierre de Meuron, Peter Zumthor, and Jacques Herzog (Ratajczak, 2014).

Switzerland’s Customs and Practices

            The Swiss people have always nurtured and maintained their unique customs and cultural practices over the years, a tradition which has made Switzerland to be considered as a country with a great wealth of cultural activity. In Switzerland, there is a distinction between the cultural practices in the mountains and those in the central plateau (Hess & Zajac, 2006). Therefore, despite the country’s several regional traditions, the country has few national customs. One of the major factors that have made immense contributions to the formation of the Swiss customs and cultural practices is the Alps (mountain range). The Alps played a significant role in shaping the thoughts of the Swiss people, including their conservatism, rationality, and joie de vivre (Ratajczak, 2014). Switzerland is renowned for its fervent dancing, attractive landscapes, as well as excellent trekking, hiking, and ski trails. Switzerland is also associated with a variety of folk arts, such as Yodeling and alphorn. Switzerland is also known for its tradition of producing high-quality chocolate, watches, cowbell, cheese, and army knife (Hess & Zajac, 2006).

Contributions of Switzerland’s Culture to the Global Society

            The Swiss culture has made it possible for the global modern society to enjoy a broad range of products from Switzerland, including the Swiss cheese, chocolate, watches, Nestle products, private banking, as well as the Swiss pharmaceutical industry (Novartis, Roche) among others (Rossel & Schroedter, 2015). In fact, other countries across the world are always prepared and willing to pay a premium for Switzerland's products due to Switzerland's reputation for high-quality standards. In the context of religion, Switzerland has given the global society Calvinism, Zwinglianism, the Amish, the Anabaptists, as well as several other dissenter groups (Church, 1989). Besides, two of the world’s greatest modern theologians (Hans Kueng and Karl Barth) are from Switzerland. The Red Cross was also found by a Swiss, Henri Dunant. Also, two key figures in the Twentieth Century architecture and Music have been Swiss (Le Corbusier and Honegger, respectively) (Ratajczak, 2014).


            In overall, the culture of the tiny nation of Switzerland is highly influenced by the cultural practices and traditions of its neighboring countries of Germany, Italy, and France. The cultural diversity in Switzerland is evident in the fact that the primary languages of its neighboring countries (which include German, French, and Italian) form part of Switzerland’s four national languages. Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, with each canton having its own set of cultural traditions and customs. Some of the products that put Switzerland on the international scale include chocolate, cowbell, cheese, Swiss Army knife, and watches. The products also act as Switzerland’s trademark. Switzerland also has a well-established and thriving art industry, characterized by the production of a broad range of artworks, including painting, music, wood carving, sewing, and architecture. The Swiss people also value several annual celebrations that are often performed on specific periods of the year. Besides, Switzerland remains a country of traditions, where citizens have a great respect for the values of religion, family, and homeland. Most cultural events are practiced in the country’s rural areas across the country’s 26 cantons. Social rules and norms govern the behavior of the Swiss people, promoting a conformist society that values respect for every citizen. Behaviors that are considered disruptive or conflicting societal culture are not tolerated. In general, the Swiss people have a strong sense of community created by the diversity of their culture and the country’s rich history.


Church, C. (1989). Behind the Consociational screen: Politics in contemporary Switzerland. West European Politics, 12(2), 35-54. doi: 10.1080/01402388908424737

Hess, M., & Zajac, E. (2006). Swiss Culture Profile. Diversicare, 4-40. Retrieved from

Ratajczak, M. (2014). Multi-cultural Switzerland – multicultural public service media? (3), 7. doi: 10.14746/pp.2014.19.3.1

Rössel, J., & Schroedter, J. (2015). Cosmopolitan cultural consumption: Preferences and practices in a heterogeneous, urban population in Switzerland. Poetics, 50, 80-95. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2015.02.009

Zwingli, H. (1522). Selected Works of Huldrych Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland. The Online Library of Liberty. Retrieved from

November 24, 2023

Culture Life

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