National holiday and national anthem

The first of August is a Swiss national holiday, which is celebrated with political speeches, bonfires, fireworks and lanterns. There, the President of the Swiss Confederation addresses the nation, and the Swiss national anthem, which has been in use since 1961, is sung. One of the best-known ceremonies takes place on the legendary Rütli meadow.

Laterns with the Swiss cross
On Swiss National Day, streets, squares and balconies are decorated with flags and lanterns. © Roland Zumbühl picswiss

Swiss National Day

On 1 August, Switzerland commemorates the signing of the Federal Charter of 1291, in which the localities of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden pledged to help each other if attacked. Legend has it that the representatives of the three founding localities – 'the three Confederates' – swore their oath on the Rütli meadow, which overlooks Lake Lucerne. They vowed to free their country from the Habsburgs. That is why a national ceremony now takes place on the legendary Rütli meadow. On 1 August, the President of the Swiss Confederation addresses the entire nation. In a 1993 referendum, Swiss National Day was declared a public holiday throughout Switzerland.

Bonfires are lit and fireworks are set off all over Switzerland on 1 August. In some places, children parade through the streets with lanterns bearing the Swiss cross and their canton's flag. There are parades with people in traditional costumes and with yodelling choirs, alphorns and flag-throwers. And throughout the country, politicians, from Federal Councillors to communes' mayors, deliver speeches celebrating Swiss National Day.

In addition, in many places, the mythical story of William Tell, the legendary hero of Swiss independence who is said to have resisted an imperial Habsburg overseer, is enacted. The famous drama, in which William Tell had to shoot an apple off his son's head with his crossbow, was written by Friedrich von Schiller in 1804.

National anthem

The first national anthem of Switzerland was the song 'Rufst du, mein Vaterland', whose lyrics were written in 1811 by Johann Rudolf Wyss. It was sung to the tune of the British national anthem 'God Save the King'.

The current national anthem is the 'Swiss Psalm', composed in 1841. The lyrics were written by Leonard Widmer of Zurich, with the melody coming from the Uri-born monk and composer Alberik Zwyssig. In 1961, the Federal Council provisionally declared the Swiss Psalm to be the new national anthem for military and diplomatic purposes. In 1981, the Swiss Psalm became the new official national anthem by a decree of the Federal Council. The lyrics of the national anthem exist in all four national languages.