Christmas in Schluein

Following my Christmas experiences in Zurich, I headed up to the mountains for the real stuff: family!

With all 4 kids, a mountain guide, a tired ETH student, and one excited dog, my Aunt was Wonder Woman and created a truly memorable Christmas for all of us!

Christmas dinner in Switzerland is not as grand a production as in Canada. This is mainly because the tree is only decorated on the 24th (also the night of the dinner) which is a feat in itself. So after surveying most of my Swiss friends, the conclusion was that they tended to have a simpler meal on the 24th before or after opening the gifts.

Up in the mountains, we had a very cool alternative Swiss dinner- personal pizzas using the raclette grill!

Just to clarify, raclette is a traditional Swiss meal where you warm up cheese in little pans (about the size of your palm) on a communal grill in the middle of the table. The cheese is then added to bread, potatoes, or meat etc. For the pizzas, we used the little pans with fresh pizza dough, and a pile of toppings. Everyone could make them as they pleased and waiting for them to ‘cook’ built up the suspense between pieces. Yum. 

In terms of gifts, Lisa maintains some Canadian traditions even after 20 or so Christmases here and so we opened the gifts on the morning of the 25th- definitely bringing back some of my favourite memories of Claire and I waking up early, opening our stockings and hanging around in pajamas until the afternoon. In the mix of presents was a Wii for the whole family! I would never have guessed how much fun/exercise you can get from some of those games! My favourite: Just Dance where you have to dance in time to some fun 80’s hits, competing against a partner. When looking at the pictures below, please note that these are not professional dancers and there were some sore bodies the following day.

A few photos to give you an idea of the fun with all 7 of us and the dog!

Mia and Freddi in pizza mode
Ty and Nora
Lisa and Caylin playing Wii
Lisa and Freddi in a serious dance-off

 The town of Schluein also organized advent windows where you can do a loop through the town to see 24 windows dressed up for Christmas. Lisa and Freddi had number 19, and of course a deer had to make it in there too. Adevnt windows are a pretty common tradition and are very fun to see as you walk around.

Advent window

 Even though I was away from my friends and close family, it was a really special Christmas!

Christmas in Zurich

A long-awaited post on the magical European Christmas… at least from the Swiss perspective.In many of the Swiss cities and towns, an outdoor market is set-up with quaint little huts outfitted with fake snow, spruce branches, twinkly lights and of course the artisan offerings. Zurich has one of the largest, though most commercial unfortunately, with around 100 huts located mostly in the main train station (bahnhof) (making it slightly more environmentally robust) and it lasts most of December.My friends and I visited frequently to scope out authentic gifts among the knickknacks and chinese scarves, sip on mulled wine (‘Gluhwein’ as it locally called, which becomes as ubiquitous as water during the holidays), gaze at the sparkling centrepiece tree decorated entirely with Swarovski jewels and sample as many Christmas cookies, German gingerbread, and local cheeses as we could.

Swarovski Tree
Zurich Market in train station
Market stand

Stepping outside the train station, you enter on to the always busy Bahnhof Strasse decorated with hanging lights, streams of tourists and shoppers, and clouds of smoke from the chestnut roasters that are every few blocks.I have to pause on the chestnuts. They are locally available here and in the fall there are many seasonal dishes that specifically include them. With so many around and the warm nutty smell from all the street roasters, I felt the urge to buy a warm bag of them for myself. This is one of the wonders of travelling and experiencing things on your own. As my parents will attest to, I have never really been fond of chestnuts. I can’t remember a single winter season that my dad didn’t have some around, and yet I often refused to even try. Now they are my special treat when I make the walk into the downtown and past the little temporary roaster stands.    

Frozen fountain
Zurich dusted with snow

Back to the streets… Many of the narrower streets are strung with lights that hang down between the buildings. I didn’t get any great photos of it, but imagine, in the evening, that it feels like the stars are about 10 feet above you as you walk down cobble-stone streets, and the view ahead is of single points of lights… very very cool.Another special tradition is called Lichterschwimmen- translated as ‘swimming lights’. These are little candle on floating blocks of styrofoam launched at night down the Limmat river in the centre of Zurich. A study break, before a particularly annoying exam, led a bunch of my friends down to see it. Turns out we weren’t the only ones with this idea but it was quite special.

Floating candles

In Rapperswil, a city at the other end of Lake Zurich, there was a special outdoor re-enactment of the story of Jesus. There was an initial procession through the old town followed by the story of Jesus’ birth . It was very special: snow was falling, locals young and old were involved in the show, and they actually brought out camels from their zoo for one of the three kings!

Angel procession in Rapperswil
The king's camels!

Finally, to end my Christmas time in Zurich, I organized a Christmas party with my Canadian friend, Andrea. It was the day after our last classes and before we all went our separate ways for the holiday. The semester had created some really wonderful bonds and we all felt that it was necessary for some time to enjoy each other, some christmas cookies and, well, some more gluhwein!

Shopping for Christmas Gluhwein

 I don’t know if the price is clear, but that bottle is 3.90 swiss francs (equivalent to Canadian dollars)… not bad.

Homemade Gluhwein
Christmas party friends and tea
Christmas desserts

And this last one was our craft project: take mandarin skins, keeping the inner white bit to use as a wick in olive oil, cut little decorative holes out of the top half, light and instant snow lanterns! We were very proud.

Christmas party mandarin shell lanterns

 Oh, and a few last pictures from a hill above the city, with a great view of the distant mountains (my next stop for Christmas) and one of me, just to let you know I haven’t changed too much!

Overlooking Lake Zurich
On the top of the hill!

Hope everyone had a most wonderful Christmas!