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.
Note: Christmas in Zurich abruptly ends 23. Dec. All the Christmas markets don’t just close but are broken down and carried away. Then everything is curiously quiet during the whole Christmas school break. So don’t plan to do any shopping or festive activities on 24. Dec.
23. Nov – Christmas Lights in Downtown Zurich
Every year, Zurich officially turns on the Christmas lights on a Thursday before the 1st Advent and over 300 downtown shops open late until 22:00 for shopping. Hooray for consumerism! Website.
26. Nov 17:00 – Samichlaus Parade on Bahnhofstrasse
First Advent Sunday 5pm on Bahnhofstrasse. This is a big parade with lots of Santas and Santa helpers marching along the Bahnhofstrasse, with lots of floats and marching bands. Get there a little early to get a front row spot; we usually set up near Paradeplatz. But the parade starts near Globus, so you might have to wait awhile before the parade reaches you. Dress super warm and bring some snacks. The Santas hand out Lebkuchen to the kids, so if your kids don’t like that, be prepared to deal with some disappointment. Website.
1 to 6 Dec – Visit Samichlaus in the woods
Samichlaus is the German Swiss version of Santa Claus that visits children on 6. Dec. 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 families 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 1 Dec to Wed 6 Dec from 10:00 to 16:00. See their website here.
>>> See my post with more details about Samichlaus in woods.
24 Nov to 24 Dec – Märlitram (aka Samichlaus story tram)
In 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. 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.
>>> See my Märlitram ride with Samichlaus post for more details.
3 Dec – 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 2017, this will happen on Sunday 3 December. See the AWCZ website for details.
6 Dec – St. Nicholas day, Samichlaus home visit
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, both empty and filled with treats, making it really easy for St. Nicholas to do his job.
>>> If you want to bake your own, see my Grittibänz – Bread Man post for a recipe and design instructions.
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, but also brings Christmas PJs, a bag of treats and a Grittibänz bread. I told my kids that I wrote Santa and told him we’d prefer him to come on Dec 24.
10. Dec – Silvesterlauf
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 2017, this run happens on Sunday 10 December. Get information here.
Photo from www.silvesterlauf.ch
Nov and Dec – Kerzenziehen, aka Candle dipping
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.
24. Nov to 23. Dec – Zurich Christmas Markets
These markets are open from the last weekend of November and continue through 23 Dec. See Our Favorite Christmas Markets for more suggestions of markets within a day trip distance of Zurich.
The Wienachtdorf Market at Sechseläutenplatz also has a temporary ice rink which is only open during the market times. Europalle also hosts a seasonal ice rink at Gustav-Gull-Platz.
>> See more fun places to ice skate in Zurich…
23. Nov to 23. Dec – 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.
21. Dec – Lichterschwimmen
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 2017, it’s scheduled for 21 Dec at 18:00. More info at www.zuerich.com
17. and 23. Dec – 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, bring a sled to drag your tree on. This is by far one of our favorite things to do as a family.
17. Dec 2017 – Albisgütli forest from 11-16:00
23. Dec 2017 – Hönggerberg from 9:00 to 16:30
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