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Swiss~American Day
01 August 2021

The American Community Survey, compiled between 2008 and 2012 and being the most recent analysis, identified 1% of the total population of Bedford County as descending from Swiss ancestors.

Swiss National Day, celebrated on the 1st of August, commemorates the date in 1291 that three cantons (Schwyz, Uri and Unterwald) joined together as the Swiss Confederacy. Celebration of the Confederacy dated to 1291, though, is a recent phenomenon. For many generations, the anniversary of the legendary oath agreed to by the three cantons, known as the Rutlischwur, was celebrated on 8 November, and it was believed to date to 1307 (primarily on the say-so of the 16th Century historian, Aegidius Tschudi). The discovery that the oath of confederation actually dated to 01 August 1291 was made in 1889 and the holiday gained favor in the 1940s.

Switzerland is the name by which the Swiss Confederation is known to the English speaking people. The country has five other 'official' names according to its neighbors and their languages. Germany, which borders to the north, knows the country as Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft. France, bordering to the west, calls it Confederation Suisse. Confederazione Svizzera is how Italy, to the south, knows her. In the canton of Grisons, located in the southeast region of the country, the language predominantly spoken by the inhabitants is Romansh, and the Romansh name for the country is Confederaziun svizra. And lastly, a holdover from the Holy Roman Empire is the Latin name for the country: Confoederatio Helvetica.

The celebration of Swiss National Day is often expressed in parades, fireworks and bonfires. Giving a nod to the legends of the Swiss hero, William Tell, some celebrations feature crossbow competitions. In many Swiss communities in the Alpine motherland and in the Swiss diaspora, as night comes on, the bonfires are lit, with neighbors and/or communities vying to make the largest. Children will walk through the community Carrying lighted paper lanterns decorated with red backgrounds and the white cross, symbolic of Switzerland's flag. One of the unique activities in which musicians participate on Swiss National Day is the playing of the alphorn, which permits a range of three octaves. Unlike her more boisterous neighbors on their national holidays, Switzerland (and hence the Swiss~Americans) tend to spend the day in a more contemplative attitude.

Traditional Swiss foods tend to mimic the foods loved by her French, German, Austrian and Italian neighbors. Sausage is a mainstay. Cheese is another food that the Swiss are famous for. A dish that originated in the Alpine region of Switzerland as early as the 13th Century is raclette. A large wheel of semi-hard cheese is held before a fire or other source of heat causing its face to melt. The melting cheese is scraped off onto the diners' plates to serve as a sauce to various other food items such as steamed potatoes. Melted cheese is not limited to raclette. Fondue is also a traditional Swiss culinary invention, but unlike raclette, the cheese is melted in a pot. Small pieces of cooked meat, bread or potatoes are stuck on the end of skewers and dipped into the melted cheese. A variation of fondue is the substitution of oil for the cheese. Uncooked meat dipped in the oil is then cooked. Another variation is melting chocolate in the pot and dipping pieces of pastry of fruit into it. Rosti, a sort of potato pancake or fritter, is a popular Swiss breakfast dish. In America, the potato dish called hash browns is similar to rosti. Rosti is usually eaten with 'sunny-side-up' fried eggs (commonly called 'dippy' eggs). A traditional Swiss meat dish is Zurcher Geschnetzeltes. Veal is cut into small pieces and sauteed in butter in a very hot skillet. The meat is removed from the skillet and a dash of white wine and cream is added to the skillet. After being reduced to a sauce, the meat is returned to the skillet along with mushrooms. The dish is often paired with rosti.

In regard to what people normally will drink on Swiss National Day, beer, giving a nod to their German and Austrian neighbors, and wine (which is often thought of as the 'national drink') top the list of alcoholic favorites. In wines, the Pinot Noir and Merlot varieties of grapes are grown extensively in the 'French' regions of Switzerland. The Swiss also grow the grape variety named Chasselas, which is quite popular when paired with the raclette and fondue dishes. One might also think that topping the list of non-alcoholic drinks would be cocoa. But despite the prevalence of chocolate processing companies in the country, the Swiss actually drink more herbal tea and coffee than cocoa. For cocoa and chocolate-loving Swiss~Americans, it might be of interest to know that one of the most loved chocolate brands in the motherland is Caotina.

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