Swiss Independence Day

In “early August” 1291, during the late middle ages three cantons in what is now central Switzerland, swore an oath of alliance, and I suppose with that, a nation was conceived. Who were they uniting against? Here, my very short, unprofessional answer. The areas, Uri and Schwyz (cantons) were granted imperial immediacy (1231 and 1240) which meant that they only had to answer to the Emperor (that’s good). This also continued when Rudolf I, of the Austrian Habsburgers was the King of the Romans (1273 – 1291). I can imagine at this time, unless you were one of the very rich you were probably one of the unlucky oppressed and had little to say. You were, in fact, a slave of sorts in that you were obliged to soccage (compulsory labor) for several days per year. Our Swiss certainly didn’t want this to happen to them. In July of 1291 Rudolf I died, before all of the Dukes could get together and elect another King (communicating and organizing these things took a bit longer then than they do today) the three alpine regions got together to use the vacuum created by Rudolf’s death and no King to claim independence, or at least pledge to help each other. Being on the western part of the Empire and not very important, it looks like they got away with it, too.

Of course, Switzerland wasn’t build in a day, or a year for that matter. It took a good many years until Switzerland as we know it now, existed (after the French Revolution, at the 1815 Congress of Vienna the boundaries of modern day Switzerland were defined). I guess good things take time.

And so it has come that since the end of the 19th century August 1st is celebrated as Swiss National Day. Surprisingly, it has only been an official work-free holiday since 1994! The Swiss voted on an initiative with an overwhelming 83.8% yes.

The Swiss celebrate August 1st basically like every other nation that has their national holiday in the summer, with lots of barbeques and picnics. They also like to build bonfires and hang rows of little cantonal flags and paper lampions. The children get to point to the different flags and recite which canton they belong to. Once it gets dark (which is around 10pm or so) it gets noisy with fireworks.

Chaucer on August 1st...Not everyone enjoys the fireworks. Before we had a dog we went to the lake and got caught up in the event with everyone else. Since we have a dog we celebrate as quietly as possible. All of our dogs, with the exception of the one we have now, absolutely hated August 1st. Usually, as soon as it turned dark we would go inside, close all the windows and curtains and put on some soothing Mozart. We have friends who regularly travel to France on August 1st with their two dogs to get away from the noise and stress. You do what you have to do.

Before it turns completely dark kids love to make noise with things that sound like gun fire and then smell burnt, or little rockets that swish and sparkle. One year when I was walking the dog I was hit by a low flying “thing”. Luckily it wasn’t flying at high speed but it hit me right in the neck and still stuck like a quivering arrow! I pulled it out, I think it was what was left of one of those rockets, it was a stick with a roll at the top. Ouch.

So, keep your eyes open for low flying objects and happy August 1st everyone.

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