A Brief History of Switzerland's Federal Day of Thanksgiving

| © pixel2013 / Pixabay
Sean Mowbray

The Swiss Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer takes place on the third Sunday of every September (it’s known as Jeûne fédéral in French, Digiuno federale in Italian, Eidgenössischer Dank-, Buss- und Bettag and Rogaziun federala in Romansh).

The whole thing came about due to problems that arose during the Middle Ages: war, famine and disease. The authorities would often impose fasting on the populace, young and old, rich and poor alike, during these tough times. During these days, pilgrimages, processions and acts of penance would also take place and both Protestants and Catholics would take part. It wasn’t until 1832 that the Jeûne fédéral became an official day of Thanksgiving throughout Switzerland.

In Geneva, another similar day is celebrated in September and is called Jeûne genevois. Originally, the day was marked with a fast in October, supposedly for Genevans to show solidarity with their fellow Protestants in France, who were at that time being persecuted for their faith. However, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, when thousands of Protestants met an untimely end, a fast was organized on September 3rd to remember those who were slaughtered. Over time in Geneva, as with the rest of Switzerland, the day stuck and later, in around 1792, it was dusted off and made into a day of celebration once again and is still celebrated today as a cantonal, and immensely patriotic, holiday.

An artists depiction of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre

Nowadays, both the Jeûne fédéral and the Jeûne genevois have lost much of their religious veneer and many people probably won’t be able to tell you where the day comes from. As you might expect, the tradition of fasting often goes out the window and it is simply considered a national holiday and an excuse to take to the mountains or spend some time with family. In Geneva, the tradition is to eat plum pie. If you visit Switzerland during this period, don’t be surprised to see most shops closed and the streets eerily empty.

Eating plum pie is the best way to fast

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article