Switzerland: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

On this Second Sunday of the Advent calendar, my roommates and I have lit the second candle on our advent wreath. A tradition that I was not familiar with prior to coming here, the advent wreath is actually a pretty special icon. About a week ago I was walking through the University and saw a group of tables set up that looked rather festive. Students were cutting small shoots of Christmas tree branches and weaving them together to make wreaths. My elusive creative genius was immediately intrigued. I asked the woman manning the table what was going on and discovered that this was a workshop where you could make your own advent wreath. Since I had never tried making a wreath before, I decided to give it a shot. And what do you know, it turned out quite beautiful! After weaving together the branches, I learned how to add the candles and then added my own unique touch with the stars, dried fruits, and a sprinkle of pearls. I then learned the significance of the four candles — the first represents hope, the second peace, the third love, and the fourth joy. What a lovely tradition to celebrate the meaning for the season—the coming of the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Yesterday was the day of St. Nicolas—a day of celebration for all the Fribourgeois! The patron saint of the city of Friboug, St. Nicolas, is celebrated during the first weekend of December each year. Throughout my semester here so far, I have never seen so many people throughout the town — it was truly a sight! In the peripheral areas of the church, markets spread out like spider webs, booths here and there along smaller chemins, but all leading down to the ultimate end of the patron saint’s journey—the Cathédrale de St. Nicolas. Lights and miniature Christmas trees adorned the cobble-stoned streets leading down to the old city and vendors boasted signs of “Thé de Nöel” and “Jus d’orange chaud avec miel.” There were also several spots selling the famous gingerbread santa cookies that one typically associates with a traditional European Christmas. The cortège de Saint Nicolas was quite the bizarre sight indeed. In the crowded streets, there was first a group of students playing small flutes and making their way through the crowd. Then came St. Nicolas riding a donkey and surrounded by people with brown hooded cloaks carrying tree branches. As he passed through the crowd, St. Nicolas threw out gingerbread cookies to the crowd. Though not to the scale of a Mardi Gras parade on the Gulf Coast, this parade will be one to remember.

After he arrived at the cathedral, St. Nicolas went up to the balcony and gave a speech to the city. He spoke of various events that happened throughout the year, about how we should be more conscious of our environment and make efforts to become more sustainable, and that we should smile and laugh, because laughter is an important part of life. Finally, he quoted Yoda and said that we mustn’t fear because, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” Once he had finished his speech, he made an illustrious exit, with red flames and smoke filling the stage where he had just been standing.

It is the little moments, such as this festival, that I will miss the most about this town and this country. The value of community, the focus on supporting local businesses, and the value placed on providing a sustainable future are all so strongly felt here. These sentiments are near and dear to my heart and seeing them highlighted in this way fills me with so much joy. I will truly miss the simplicity of life here in Switzerland.

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