01 August 2014

Bonfires Signal Switzerland's 723rd Birthday

Last night at the annual party our neighbors, the Leuba family, threw in celebration of Switzerland's birthday on August 1st, there was the usual huge bonfire and fireworks. Didier Leuba explained to me that the bonfires that are still lit around the country on Swiss National Day hearken back to the ones that burned on the mountain tops back in the 13th and 14th centuries when the powerful Hapsburgs were the overlords of the loose network of communities that would eventually form the federation that would become Switzerland.

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According to Didier, whose family with its sprawling properties spread across our patch of farmland and forest, is more or less our beneficent châtelain, the mountain-top bonfires were a way for the future Swiss to give the finger to the Hapsburgers. "We're still up here," was the message of the bonfires. "Come clanking up our mountain trails in your heavy armor if you dare, and see how you like our avalanche of stones!" According to legend, in 1291, the warlords of three communes, Uri, Unterwalden and Schwyz, swore an oath to band together and form a confederacy to fight the Hapsburgs. It took a couple hundred years, but now the Hapsburgs are gone and the bonfires remain.

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