Ascona

2017-11-12T16:03:25+00:00

The Italian speaking canton of Switzerland is called Ticino. It borders on Italy and is in the very South of our country. The canton owns 20% of the Lago Maggiore (Lake of Maggiore), the rest belong to Italy.

Because of the Southern position of this beautiful lake the weather in the Ticino is generally milder and sunnier than in the North. While we are down in the Ticino for a few days of sun up North is is raining right now.

Bellinzona is the capital of the canton. Lugano however is the biggest city of the canton and after Zurich and Geneva the most important financial center. The canton Ticino has only a population of about 350’000 inhabitants.

Quite a few rivers flow from the high mountains through deep valleys into the lake. Up along the rivers into the mountains many charming old villages dot the wild countryside.

Ascona is a picturesque small city on the Lago Maggiore (Lake of Maggiore). It boasts a beautiful lake promenade along with many cafes and boutiques, selling expensive clothing and exclusive watches. Italian culture has a deep influence on the canton and gives it it’s special cultural flavour.

This small city is at the lowest point of Switzerland and only 196m above sea level.

Ascona 2017-11-12T16:03:25+00:00

Funerals

2017-09-12T14:44:13+00:00

We like having a look at grave yards in the places we visit. It offers some insight into local spirituality and culture.

Nowadays in Switzerland the topic of death is uncomfortable and many people just push it aside. With modern medicine, hygiene and a high standard of living death gets delayed. In Switzerland by 2015 people’s average death age is 83.2 years. But sooner or later death knocks at everybody’s door.

Once a death has occurred the immediate family is busy organising the funeral. Typical funeral cards are sent out to the family, friends and neighbours of the deceased. These days quite a few people actually prefer a burial in anonymity or just with the immediate family only.

Usually the funeral takes place within a week or up to 2 weeks after the death. In Christian funerals there is normally some music where the congregation sings songs of the resurrection and of the future together with Christ. The pastor will share a comforting message pointing out that if we know Jesus as Saviour, who has forgiven our sins, we are going to enjoy His fellowship forever. Normally after the funeral the whole party goes out for a meal together in order to comfort the grieving family.

Today cremation is quite popular. Christians on the whole probably still prefer to have the body put in a coffin and then lowered into the earth. In the picture here these are row graves where people get buried in their coffin, one after another.

A funeral with a row grave costs about CHF 20’000.-. This includes the funeral service, a coffin, a meal, a grave stone that replaces the wooden cross later on and a gardener tending the grave for the next 20 years. The graves have to be kept well and in order all year round.

There are other more or less expensive options too. People can have a family grave with several people buried at the same spot. Or people can opt for a common grave where the ashes of quite a few people are poured into the same spot.

Many people do not necessarily hold Christian beliefs anymore and so the funeral can be very different from the traditional Christian ways. People may wish that their ashes are poured into a river or strewn on a mountain slope or just buried beneath a tree.

Each village or city has their own graveyard. Traditionally the graveyard used to be just next to the village church and often still is.

In German a grave yard  is called „Friedhof“ or „Garden of peace“. This expresses the Christian faith that people who die in Christ rest in peace.

Funerals 2017-09-12T14:44:13+00:00

Easter

2017-04-21T07:03:44+00:00

Christmas and Easter are the most important Christian holidays. While Christmas follows a fixed schedule (December 25) Easter follows a more complicated calculation based on the lunar calendar. But Easter mostly falls into the month of April heralding warmer days ahead.

Easter is preceded by Good Friday, the day that reminds us of the death of Christ 2000 years ago on a cross just outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Even though Christ was executed by the Romans he understood his death as sacrificial. Christ proclaimed that all who would claim his death for themselves could rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins and the restoration of fellowship with God.

Easter is celebrated on the following Sunday. This is the day that Christ rose from the grave. By his resurrection Jesus inaugurated a new age: through his spirit he would be present in his believers, building His kingdom of love, joy and peace until the day of his return when death and sin and tears would be swallowed up by Life for ever.

In Switzerland Easter is celebrated with coloured eggs, easter chocolate bunnies and more recently also with a lamb (a kind of sweet bread).

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Cheese Fondue

2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

Cheese Fondue is the Swiss national dish! So what is it all about?

The idea is really simple. Heat grated cheese slowly and add some white wine along with some cornstarch. Once the cheese turns liquid use a long fork to dip a piece of bread into the cheese. Stir and enjoy!

There are different kinds of ready made packages on the market, where you just have to heat up the content until it’s liquid. Better quality are different cheese mixtures that you can buy. You then add the ingredients of wine, starch and garlic yourself. There are even one person portions of 200g, that you can just heat up in the microwave in the package.

In Switzerland probably every family has a fondue set. That is the caquelon (fondue pot), a réchaud (portable stove) and quite a few long Fondue forks. Different sets can be purchased in bigger super markets.

The meal is rather heavy. A Swiss adult eats about 200g of cheese. If you are not used to cheese just eat less!

The meal is also really rather simple. Cheese and bread – that’s about it!

Fondue is great, but smelly. We cook and enjoy fondue together as a family or with friends during the winter season in the kitchen behind a closed door and then air the room well.

To help digestion people like to drink white wine, black tea or fizzy water. As a desert we often serve fruit salad, which is also light.

Cheese Fondue 2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

The Story of the Shepherds

2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

By mid December in many Swiss homes all is set for celebrating Christmas. Often a genuine fir tree is purchased and then lovingly decorated. Gifts are laid at the foot of the tree.

In quite a few homes you will also find hand made figures, with shepherds, a stable, a manger, the baby Jesus along with his parents Joseph and Mary. This set is made of clay. Often wood or fabric is used too.

During the Christmas celebration quite a few Christians would then read the age old and familiar Christmas story according to the gospel of Luke (Chapter 2) that renders the perspective of the shepherds:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

The Story of the Shepherds 2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

Christmas Season

2016-12-13T22:04:25+00:00

The atmosphere in town is just great. Special Christmas decoration is up. Music is weaving through the streets. The scent of roasted chestnut is hanging in the air. Throngs of people are on the road. Excited kids are trailing behind their parents.

For many adults December is a stressful month. They have to get all the presents ready to give to their kids and the wider family when celebrating Christmas. The shops offer special Christmas sales. Advertisements suggest specific gifts for Christmas. The season has become quite commercialised.

December is also the time when the companies invite their employees out for a meal before the end of the year. There are Christmas plays at schools, concerts and church events are lined up too. People on the whole are really busy.

Christmas is actually a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Christ. Switzerland has become a rather secular nation where for the majority the deeper meaning of Christmas has been lost.

Most people are looking forwards to the week off between Christmas and New Years’ Eve. This is a short but festive holiday. In some way it has a bit the feel of Chinese New Year. Most restaurants and even hotels are closed in that week. Shops are closed or just only open on specific days. It is good to get stocked up and get ready for a time with family and friends and maybe already hit the ski trail.

Christmas Season 2016-12-13T22:04:25+00:00

Attending A Wedding

2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

In Switzerland for a marriage to be legally binding the couple has to go to the registry office where the two officially get married. There is normally a very small ceremony led by the clerk at the registry.

It could be a couple of days or even a few weeks after the legal marriage that the couple then invites family, friends and colleagues for their public wedding.

Often, quite some time before the event, the couple to be wed sends out rather creative invitations for their public wedding. Traditionally, the inner circle is not only invited to the ceremony, but also to the wedding banquet afterwards. These people usually also get a wish list from the couple where on a specified website they can pick a gift that the couple would like to have. These can be an iron, or a voucher at IKEA, or a contribution to their honeymoon etc.

Quite a few people still like their wedding ceremony to take place in a church setting as has been the tradition for centuries. However as the Swiss are increasingly secular some wedding ceremonies are held in rather exotic settings (in free fall or under water) without necessarily Christian elements. The bride and the bridegroom usually are quite free to organize a wedding the way the personally like to.

The wedding I attended took place on the grounds of a vinery. The Christian wedding ceremony included the entry of the the bridegroom followed by the bride led in by her father, songs of worshipping God, a down to earth sermon by the pastor, the bridegroom and the bride exchanging their personally formulated marriage vows and the exchange of their wedding rings, a kiss and then a prayer of blessing by the Christian parents for the newly wed couple. At the end the bride and bridegroom were cheered on as they made their way out (see picture above).

After the ceremony everyone was treated to a rich buffet served in the vinery. There were tables with many different kinds of cheese, meats, backed products, wonderful deserts along with great vine and beer. Later on a band played, there was some dancing along with some funny productions.

Attending A Wedding 2017-08-03T12:14:27+00:00

Happy Easter

2016-03-21T12:02:08+00:00

Easter is a happy holiday. For weeks before this public holiday the shops already start selling chocolate Easter rabbits. They come in all sorts of shapes and flavours. You get the normal milk chocolate as well as black and white chocolate Easter rabbits. Some kids keep their chocolate rabbits for months resisting all temptations. Those sweet beasts are still quite fine after many months….

There is an Easter tradition that the families celebrate together with this kids. After a generous brunch the parents will hide some of the sweet goodies outside in the garden or around the home and then let the excited kids search and discover them.

On Easter Sunday people also like to eat hard boiled eggs with colored shells. Some of those eggs are turned into quite some artwork.

Easter is a long weekend off work. People are off work from Good Friday until Easter Monday. Some also use the opportunity for a brief holiday abroad.

Easter is early this year (already on Sunday, March 27, 2016). In the Western church (in contrast with the Eastern church) the date is set on the first Sunday following the full moon after March 20. Easter is in correlation with the Jewish Passover festival during which Christ was crucified and then three days later rose from the dead.

In many churches there are special services remembering Christ’s death on the cross (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter). Often these services are accompanied by great classical or sacred music.

Happy Easter 2016-03-21T12:02:08+00:00

Mendelssohn’s Oratorio St. Paul

2016-02-11T17:47:36+00:00

Sunday, December 27 at 5 pm, we enjoyed the very beautiful oratorio (with a larger choir, orchestra and soloists) of St. Paul by Mendelssohn. The concert took place in the culture Casino of Berne. Lena-Lisa Wüstendörfer was conducting the Berne Bach Choir and the orchestra of Europa. Outstanding was the soprano Anne-Florence Marbot.

The oratorio recounts the story of how Saul was persecuting the first Christians. He then encountered the risen Christ and experienced a radical conversion. From then on he was called Paul. The oratorio goes on to tell how Paul became the first Christian missionary.

In 1836 the German Jewish Felix Mendelssohn wrote this marvellous oratorio of St. Paul. His music is very much influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach. Mendelssohn’s more conservative music style set him apart from contemporaries such as Liszt, Wagner or Berlioz.

Mendelssohn’s Oratorio St. Paul 2016-02-11T17:47:36+00:00

Christmas in Switzerland

2016-02-11T17:41:49+00:00

Christmas is a feast of light. During this season decoration in commercial buildings, private homes and even in the streets of cities and villages consists of countless electric lights. The whole atmosphere is different. It feels a bit like Chinese New Year. Things slow down. Families celebrate together. Christmas is here!

In the home the Christmas tree is often still a genuine tree cut in the woods and sold in the markets. In the past many people decorated it with candles. Nowadays often electric lights are used too.

Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth. The light is one central element of Christmas. It goes back to Christ who declared that he was the Light of the world.

Christmas in Switzerland 2016-02-11T17:41:49+00:00