Christmas in the forest

Waldweihnacht, literally meaning “forest Christmas” in German, is one of the most popular events the Swiss Society of Vancouver puts on, due to the fact that it’s a family event, says Aio Haberli, vice president of the Swiss Society.

Waldweihnacht attracts a lot of people,” Haberli adds.

The event, happening on Dec. 16 on Mount Seymour, will bring people together for a night of singing Christmas carols, drinking hot chocolate and visiting with Santa Claus.

The forest

An annual event, Waldweihnacht is a way for people to get together, celebrate and pass down cultural traditions, says Haberli.

During that time of the year, it’s usually snowing in Switzerland and to celebrate people go out into the forest, pick out a nice tree and adorn it with candles, Haberli says.

Cookies and chocolate: sweet treats, Swiss style. | Photo courtesy of the Swiss Society of Vancouver

“It’s a thing that a lot of people do back home when it snows,” Haberli explains. “While holding torches people sing Christmas songs together and when they get too cold, they head indoors to warm up their hands and feet, drink wine, hot chocolate and have things like nuts and candies.”

Here in Vancouver, Waldweihnacht will be celebrated in a similar manner.

At the event, Christmas carols will be sung in the forest in both English and Swiss German. Attendees will hold candles, and walk down on a trail and into a cabin in the woods so that everyone can warm up.

Indoors there will be music, a roaring fireplace and hot chocolate, clementines, nuts and chocolate to eat and drink, Haberli says.

“This year we’re trying to introduce a traditional Swiss dish, raclette cheese, melted and served over potatoes with pickled onions,” adds Haberli.

The society

Founded in 1912, the Swiss Society of Vancouver was formed as a way to promote Swiss traditions and culture. After moving to Canada from Switzerland more than six years ago, Haberli joined the Swiss Society.

“I dropped by one of their events; they needed help on the board,” says Haberli.

A lot of cultural societies are in short supply of volunteers that help with organizing things, he explains. “That’s how I joined.”

Haberli started off looking after the website and eventually moved his way up to vice president, although he still does his part for the Swiss Society’s online presence.

The Society, says Haberli, is organized into a number of different clubs including a Seniors Club, the Swiss Choir, an Outdoors Club and a Youth Club. Seniors in the Seniors Club get together to watch afternoon movies, celebrate birthdays and have luncheons, while the Swiss Choir enjoys singing Swiss folk music and yodeling. The Swiss Outdoors Club which is organizing Waldweihnacht, also plans monthly outings such as hikes, bike trips and ski tours, but, Haberli notes, because a lot of the members are getting older, participants for those events have declined.

The younger generation

One of the things we struggle with is to attract a younger generation,” says Haberli.

He points out that the Youth Club has been tricky to get off the ground.

“Back then when people moved to Canada they wanted a social network and the societies were good for helping people who were newly arrived,” he adds.

Younger generations coming to Canada from Switzerland prefer to immerse themselves in Canadian culture, Haberli explains.

As a result, the Society is trying to revamp their events, focusing on smaller events where turnout has been good.

“What we see is younger Swiss people are more interested in the family events where they can pass on the cultural values [such as] Waldweihnacht,” says Haberli.

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