Näfelser Fahrt is the annual commemoration of the “Battle of Näfels,” and it takes place on the first Thursday in April every year. This year, it takes place on April 6. It is a public holiday in the Canton of Glarus and is observed to mark the final battle fought between the Swiss Confederacy and Austria — with the Swiss emerging victorious despite being outnumbered sixteen to one. Local leaders, civilians, and the military are accompanied by a marching band, as the pilgrimage reaches the site of the battle for the official procession.
History of Näfelser Fahrt
The turn of the 14th century periled the Swiss people in numerous ways, with external forces waging deadly wars to gain control of their land. In the late 1330s, the Canton of Glarus was under the rule of Austria because of its strategic positioning and closer proximity to waterways. In 1336, the proud people of Glarus raised arms against the occupying forces and commenced the Battle of Sempach. Two years later, on April 9, the Austrians laid siege on the town of Näfels. The only defense of the Näfels was the small garrison of about 400 Swiss Confederation soldiers, who retreated into the hills.
As the snow fell, Austrian troops became desperate and started attacking villages. The garrison, trained in snow and fog, took advantage of their miscalculation and attacked the occupying forces. Austrians, inept to deal with the mighty force, tried to flee to the neighboring town when the weight of the soldiers collapsed the bridge — drowning the majority of the battalion. The battle concluded, as the Austrian army of 5,000 men under the command of Graf Donat von Toggenburg and the Knight Peter von Thorberg failed to sustain the retaliation of 400 Swiss Confederation soldiers.
Näfelser Fahrt celebrates the victory of the Old Swiss Confederacy over the Archduchy of Austria. Näfelser Fahrt, which translates to “journey to Näfels,” is the annual ritual of traveling to the site of the battle, and offering a pilgrimage to the fallen soldiers. Since 1420, the official commemoration taking place in the Canton of Glarus has played an important role in unifying the canton and building the nationalist spirit of the Glarner community.
Näfelser Fahrt timeline
The rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden come together to form the union of Switzerland and the Swiss Confederacy.
The Battle of Näfel commences on April 9, 1388, as the wall around Näfels is surrounded by the Austrian Army.
A pilgrimage towards the site of the battle is carried out by a marching band, citizens, political representatives, and a military delegation.
The ‘Treaty of Westphalia’ is signed by the Swiss Confederacy, marking the legal independence of Switzerland from the Holy Roman Empire.
Näfelser Fahrt FAQs
Is Näfelser Fahrt a public holiday in Switzerland?
Näfelser Fahrt is a public holiday in Glarus, which is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland.
What is the official language of Glarus?
The official language of Glarus is German, and the most spoken language of the canton is the local Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
When does the ceremony of Näfelser Fahrt start?
The pilgrimage of Näfelser Fahrt starts at 7:15 in the morning on the first Thursday of April.
How to Observe Näfelser Fahrt
The ‘Fahrzeugbrief'’ is a procession letter, written in early the 15th century that details the entire war and carries a list of every single military casualty. Since 1420, the procession of the pilgrimage includes a reading of the brief for the public. Read the translated version of the document to get in the spirit of Näfelser Fahrt.
Enjoy Swiss cuisine
There’s more to Swiss cuisine than fondue and roasted potatoes. To fully appreciate the cultural diversity of this great nation, dip your toes into its traditional delicacy. On the first Thursday of April, bake Zürcher Geschnetzeltes or roll up a Birchermüesli. Finish the meal with a hefty dollop of meringue.
Watch the ceremony
The annual pilgrimage is live-streamed by the locals and is available to watch on social media platforms. Indulge in the hour-long rally, carried out by the natives of Glarus and appreciate the spectacular unity of the canton.
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Shrovetide for lent
Shrovetide is celebrated before Lent as a folk ritual to liberate the sun from the clutches of winter demons.
Clothes and gears
Most Swiss men wear traditional clothing such as trousers, breeches, headgear, woolen stockings, and a smoked shirt, whereas women wear tight ribbon crest tops, lace bonnets, and stockings.
A land of polyglots
Along with German, the official language of Switzerland, most Swiss people are fluent in the regional dialects of their cantons.
The love for yodeling
Yodeling is the signature music style of Switzerland, evolved from shepherds who use it to communicate with each other at high altitudes.
Art of découpage
Swiss people create lace-like patterns on paper with scissors to depict floral arrangements, cheese-making processes, and geometric figures.
Why Näfelser Fahrt is Important
It commemorates the end of the war
The Battle of Näfels solidified the Swiss army as proven battle heroes with great tactical skill. Näfelser Fahrt is the celebration of the end of a long saga of bloodshed and rivalry and is considered to be a part of the Swiss Liberation Tradition. This remembrance plays a significant role in forming the shared identity of the Swiss people as victors of the great war.
It’s a day of reconciliation
Since 1835, there has been a conscious effort by the canton of Glarus to reconcile the differences between the Reformed and the Catholics by reminding them of their camaraderie and shared history. The Fahrt (Journey) commences with to the tune of ‘Grosser Gott, wir loben dich’ followed by back-to-back sermons by a Catholic and a reformed pastor.
It pays respects to the fallen soldiers
On Näfelser Fahrt, a Fahrtsbrief is distributed to the public, which details the events leading up to the war and the names of all the victims. The procession also includes ‘Seelenmesse’ which is a requiem for the fallen soldiers. The day is concluded at the Schlachtdenkmal — the battle memorial of the Battle of Näfels.
Näfelser Fahrt dates