Christmas is just around the corner and Christmas stuff starts early in Zurich. I don’t want you to miss any of it! So here’s a little overview of fun Christmas things in Zurich for kids:
Samichlaus Parade on Bahnhofstrasse
First Advent Sunday 5pm on Bahnhofstrasse. This is a big parade with hundreds of Santas and Santa helpers marching along the Bahnhofstrasse, with lots of floats and marching bands. Get there a little early to get a good spot; we usually set up near Paradeplatz. Dress super warm and bring some snacks. The Santas hand out Lebkuchen to the kids. Website.
Visit Samichlaus in the woods
Samichlaus is the German Swiss version of Santa Claus. Your kids will see a lot of Samichlaus in the first week of December. He usually visits the Kindergartens. Some community centers (Gemeindehaus) have him visit, but you must sign up beforehand and pay a small fee. Some Swiss hire a Samichlaus to visit their home and give personal scoldings. You can also visit Samichlaus in woods at various locations.
In Zurich, Samichlaus is always at the waldhut (forest house) in the Chäferbergwald near Buchenggplatz during the first week of December and it’s free to visit. In 2016, he’ll be there from Fri 2 Dec to Wed 7 Dec from 10:00 to 16:00. See their website here.
See my post with more details about Samichlaus in woods.
Märlitram (aka Samichlaus story tram)
For most of December, the Jelmoli Märlitram drives kids around town while Santa and his angel helpers tell stories to children. My son went for the first time when he was 5 years old and it was pure magic. Children from 4 to 10 years old may go, not accompanied by parents. The ride starts at Bellevue and lasts about 20 mins. Rides start about every 25 mins starting at 13:35 until 19:00.
You can buy tickets at Jelmoli (usually the top floor near the restaurant) one week before you want to ride. This is a hot ticket, so go early in the morning to get your tickets before they sell out. They also have a booth by the tram stop to buy last minute tickets for anything unsold for that day. See website for details.
Photos with Santa
(From my trusted friend Kim) The American Women’s Club of Zurich does a great visit with Santa for the kids. Each year it gets better but in 2010 the kids could color and do a craft before meeting with Santa. Santa was VERY patient, listened closely to EACH child and asked several questions which meant the line could get long but my 6-year-old loved it. The bake sale is nice and they usually have a small craft market as well.
In 2016, this will happen on Sunday 4 December. See the AWCZ website for details.
Dec 6 – St. Nicholas day
In Switzerland, Samichlaus visits children on Dec 6, not on Christmas Eve (the Christ Child brings presents on Christmas). I’ve heard different stories from different people. But in general, on the night of Dec 5, children leave shoes outside their door. The morning of Dec 6, they’ll find a canvas bag with peanuts, oranges, little cookies, Lebkuchen with Santa decal, and a Grittzbänz (bread man, see below). Migros and other shops sell the bags filled and empty to make it really easy for St. Nicholas to do his job. Many of my expat friends have embraced this tradition and have Samichlaus visit on Dec 6 and Santa visit on Dec 24. At my house, Santa still comes on Christmas Eve and doesn’t visit on Dec 6. So far, my 7YO and 3YO haven’t complained. I told them that I wrote Santa and told him we’d prefer him to come on Dec 24.
Kerzenziehen – Making candles
Making hand-dipped candles is a time-honored tradition in Zürich. Most Christmas markets and many community centers host a candle-making tent during November and December, usually with beeswax and sometimes a variety of paraffin colors.
This helpful website has a list of all candle dipping locations in Zurich. The Bürkliplatz Kerzenziehen is particularly charming, with lots of cosy dipping corners and an attached cafe. The Riesbach community center in Seefeld offers colored paraffin wax, which is more fun for the kids. See my full post on Candle Dipping 101 for more locations and tips.
Singing Christmas tree
Starting at the end of November, the Singing Christmas Tree shows up on Werdmühleplatz in Zürich, off the Bahnhofstrasse opposite of Globus. It is a set of risers decorated to look like a big Christmas tree, so the performers can stand in the tree. There is a musical program almost every evening at 5:30 and 6:30, often from local school or singing groups (not particularly professional). See their online program here. There are some food booths near Singing Christmas Tree, selling wurst, glühwein, raclette, etc. We go at least once a year and then go get hot chocolate at a nearby cafe.
Diorama Bethlehem in Einsiedeln
Diorama Bethlehem is advertized as the “largest nativity scene in the world” with “over 450 wood-carved figures wearing oriental costumes in a realistic reproduction of the environs of Bethlehem.” It’s just one room, with an enormous diorama depicting various aspects of the Christmas story with an accompanying commentary (in English). I think it’s a bit expensive (5.50CHF/adult, 2.50CHF/child), but my kids and I kinda liked it. You will only spend 15 minutes or so inside so I’d combine this with a visit to the Einsiedeln Christmas market, Kloster and the Lebkuchen museum.
Diorama Bethlehem, Benzigerstrasse 23, CH-8840 Einsiedeln, Switzerland
You’ll find Christmas Markets all over europe, some much better than others. Zurich’s main markets are the Wienachtdorf Market at Sechseläutenplatz near the Opera house and the Christkindli Market at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof.
Some markets open as early as the last weekend of November and continue through Christmas Eve. Some only run one weekend during December. So make sure check info online for whichever Christmas market you choose.
The Zurich markets are fine, but not nearly as charming as some farther afield and across the border.
I’d recommend Basel or Strasbourg or Colmar in the Alsace region. Besides being impossibly cute, I thought these markets had more for kids and more handcrafted products that other markets. I’ll post soon, detailing all the Christmas markets I’ve visited, in and outside Switzerland.
This event usually happens in the third week of December. Primary school children float hundreds of little candles down the Limmat river, starting near the Ratbrücke. For 2016, it’s scheduled for 22 Dec at 18:00. More info at www.zuerich.com
I haven’t done this myself but my friends have and really enjoyed it. This “new years” run happens every year in Zurich in mid-December. The course is fairly short and they have several categories for children and families. Most race times are in the late afternoon and evening, so you get to run through the streets of Zurich lit up by all the Christmas lights.
In 2016, this run happens on Sunday 11 December. Get information here.
Ice Skating at Landesmuseum
During winter, the Landesmuseum has a free ice skating rink that’s lit up with festive lights. I finally went there in 2011 and it was more fun than I expected. It’s a very small rink and it can get very crowded. But it’s very charming with the castle walls surrounding the rink. At night, it’s all lit up with snowflake designs projected on the walls, as shown in my pic above. They have skates to rent (8CHF for 1.5hr), but the “rutscherlis” (two-blade strap-on skates) are only for sale (35CHF). They rent pengiuns as skating stablizers (8CHF/hr), but they are so popular that we had to wait about 30 mins to get one. We had to carefully watch for someone who was just finishing and immediately ask to use theirs after they got their depot back. Maybe I’ll do a longer post later but for now, you can get more information on their website.
More fun places to ice skate in Zurich…
Cutting down your own tree
(From my trusted friend Kim) If you can wait until late December to get your tree then I highly recommend going into a city forest and picking out your own. There are only two dates to cut down your own tree so it can be busy. Saws are provided and staff will wrap your tree in a net so you can easily carry it home on the tram like we did. There’s a grill with sausages for sale as well as glühwein and hot drinks. If there’s snow like last year, bring a sled to drag your tree on. This is by far one of our favorite things to do as a family. We go to the Albisgütli forest and this year you can cut your tree on Dec. 18 from 11-16:00. You can also cut down your own tree in Hönggerberg on Dec. 17 from 11-16:00.
More info about where and when to cut down your own tree on stadt-zuerich.ch.
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