Welcome to the The Röstigraben Letters, monthly letters between Kristin from z’Nüni and Laura from Let’s Explore. Married Swiss, Kristin, an Australian living in german-speaking Zug, and Laura a Dutch, living in french-speaking Geneva, unfold through their letters the cultural differences between both sides of the Röstigraben, learning more about Switzerland along the way. Read their letters (Kristin’s & Laura’s) and replies, and share your thoughts in the comments.
My letter is a reply to Kristin’s October Röstigraben Letter. You can read her December letter here.
Geneva, December 2021
Thank you for your letter, which I always love to read! You are right, this letter marks a year of letters across the Röstigraben and I have learnt a lot and have the feeling there still is a lot to learn! I really hope we will also meet in real life one day, and I would love to visit Zug after all your stories and photos!
I can’t believe we’re already way into the December month, but I didn’t have that many activities in November. For me it was the grey weather, changing season, and lack of light that got me want to curl up on the couch as well!
Since our last letter, we went to the Netherlands at the end of October for the school break. Long time we hadn’t been on an airplane the 4 of us! We had a very good week, seeing family and going on a few days break in the east of the country. What I liked is that we even went to some places that I myself had never been to before. We took a detour through the north of the country to drive over a dike highway, the Afsluitdijk, with water on both sides of the road. The reason for our detour was to buy our favorite Dutch cheese, but we really also loved discovering something new.
I’m happy we went, as the pandemic situation is not getting any better, and so I don’t know when we will be able to go again. Believe me, I do realize I’m lucky that this distance still offers possibilities, and that for you, it is not even possible at the moment. What really bothers me is to try to figure out all the different rules for the different countries. New measures to travel to the Netherlands, or to France to my husbands family. I think we may just stay in Switzerland during the December break and enjoy all nice things here.
Beginning to look a lot like Christmas
We started decorating around the house, making it all comfy and with lights. Together with a friend, I made a beautiful Christmas wreath for on our door. Our kids helped us, and I’m super proud of the result! I used to make Christmas decorations with my mother when I was a kid, and loved to do that with a friend now too.
I’m so intrigued about all these different celebrations that you talk about and that we, here, have absolutely no knowledge about! The lantern festival sounds really nice and I read about the Chlausjagen in previous articles on your blog. I absolutely had no idea about these traditions!
In Geneva, we have the ‘Fete de l’Escalade’ which is very important to the locals and which is celebrated each year, but cancelled for 2 years in a row now. The Genevians celebrate their victory in 1602 on the French from the Savoy region who attacked Geneva in the middle of the night. Each year (in normal times), hundreds of actors dress up like in 1602 and walk around the old town of Geneva and proclaim the victory.
There are some key characters in this history like ‘Mère Royaume’ who poured hot soup down on the enemy and made vegetable soup the traditional meal to eat at the Escalade. The soup cauldron is now, you will not be surprised as this is Switzerland, turned into a chocolate version which is broken while speaking the words: ‘Et ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République!’ (Thus did perish the enemies of the Republic!).
The chocolate soup pot is broken, shared and eaten, in Geneva, the surrounding villages, and on all schools. There is also a song that they sing which is in an old dialect, making it a bit difficult for me to understand as a foreigner, but of course our children have been singing this victory song since they were very little.
I love traditions like these and usually go to the Old Town of Geneva on the Escalade weekend. I think I have mentioned something very special in our letters before: the Passage de Monetier. This is a very narrow street (my shoulders at some point touch walls on both sides), which is only accessible to the public one weekend per year. How special is that? A narrow passage way you can only go through ONE weekend per year. I think that is very special.
Saint-Nicolas, or Samichlaus as you say, is not so celebrated in Geneva, but very much in my home country yes. On our side of the Röstigraben, I think Saint-Nicolas has the most importance in Fribourg, where he speaks to the public every year during their celebration. It is on my list to go at least once to Fribourg for the Saint-Nicolas celebration.
I haven’t yet been to a Christmas market this year, but I do intend to go. Our teen is traveling tomorrow with school to the one in Basel. Quite a trip from Geneva, but so nice for them to have at least one trip this year! So far, my favorite Christmas market has been the one in Montreux, but admitted, I haven’t been to the one in Lausanne yet!
Yum, we loooove cheese fondue and Raclette! I do not know Schallen Ursli though, who is that? We do know the iron fondue pots, but we ourselves have ceramic fondue pot. I wonder if the iron ones are not more used in France, and therefore maybe more common on our side of the Röstigraben?
I’m looking forward to hear all things you will do during the end of year break Kristin. Wishing you and your family very happy holidays, and a wonderful 2022!
Love from Geneva,