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How Switzerland Started – The Bundesfeiertag Posted by on Aug 1, 2019 in Culture, Traditions

It’s August 1! Not only the start of another summery month, but also an important day: The Bundesfeiertag. The Swiss celebrate the birth of their beautiful country. So let’s have a look at what the Swiss do today and how this day started.

A Controversial Date

The Rütlischwur (Image by Andreas Faessler at under license CC BY SA 4.0)

The Bundesfeiertag was celebrated for the first time in 1891 on August 1. It marked the 700-year anniversary of the city of Bern, and coincidentally also the 600-year anniversary of the Bundesbrief von 1291. This Bundesbrief (Federal Charter) united the Talschaften (a sort of dale-ship) Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. The Bundesbrief formed a collaboration between the Talschaften, both in civil and military rights. It was quickly arranged to ensure stability after King Rudolph I died on July 15.

While it was definitely not the only Bundesbrief around that time, this Bundesbrief became the most famous. It was claimed to be the beginning of the Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (Swiss Confederation). That this Bundesbrief was signed on the exact day 100 years after the founding of Bern was a handy coincidence for the people of the city, and so they began the national holiday based on this particular Bundesbrief.

However, not everybody agreed with this Bundesbrief marking the beginning of the country. Another theory is that the beginning of Switzerland came from the Rütlischwur (Rütli Oath), an oath between representatives of the above-mentioned Talschaften on the meadow Rütli. This was in 1307.

Those that disagreed with the people of Bern celebrated the 600-year anniversary 16 years later in Altdorf. However, this celebration in 1907 would only be a feeble attempt to change the date of 1291. August 1 became established almost undisputed, and later became the official national holiday.

The Rütli is still an important place for Swiss history, and has been recognized as a national monument.

How is the Bundesfeiertag celebrated?

The day itself is a real festivity. Flaggen (flags) are put outside everywhere. You can’t get around the big plus. People dance traditional dances in traditional clothes. 1. Augustfeuer (August 1st fires) are held and Feuerwerk (fireworks) are set off. It is a big day!

Image by Adrian Michael at under license CC BY SA 3.0

Have you celebrated the Bundesfeiertag in Switzerland before? What’s the story of the public holiday of your country?

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.