By Raphael Guzman, M.D.
My wife and I have never spent much thought on how and where to celebrate the Swiss national holiday. When living in Switzerland it just comes naturally. If we were there it would be hard to miss the countless fireworks which would illuminate the Swiss sky on a night 713 years after the "declaration of the eternal alliance" in the year 1291. The Heimat (the homeland) was not a priority in our discussions after moving to the Bay Area in April. There was enough excitement in the new California life style and the vibrant environment at Stanford University. However, after some months we felt a little need for Swiss culture, and the First of August came at just the right time!

We were told by friends about the existence of the Peninsula Swiss Club, and that we should not pass up the opportunity of participating in their First of August celebration. So we made our reservations, a little late… not typically Swiss, and drove to the beautiful home of Mike and Lisa Schneider in Atherton.

Seeing all the people with Swiss tee shirts and baseball caps walking to the same place made the search for the Schneider's house easy. A warm "Gruezi and Willkomme" quickly broke any scepticism about what we might expect of the evening. There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, typical of Californians, but this time in "Schwizerduetsch" (Swiss German) which awakened feelings of being back home. The whole garden was nicely decorated with flags of the Swiss cantons, and the Sartori Band was ready to give its best.

We rapidly found our friends sitting at a table with an open bottle of red wine, which was certainly a good start for the upcoming evening! Observing the neighbouring tables I noticed that at least four generations came together to celebrate this day and to meet friends and compatriots.

Although distinct English accents could be heard, Swiss German was spoken at most of the tables. I must confess that as a native "Romand", I noticed that French was a little bit under represented… but this is not the time for me to enter into a socio-political debate on this subject.

A serious touch was added to the evening when a recording of Swiss president Joseph Deiss' official speech to the Swiss Confederation was played to us. After Deiss' speech we were honoured by the presence of Urs Siegwart, deputy head of chancery of the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco, who spoke to us. It was not about the three forest cantons Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden declaring an "eternal alliance" on the "Rütliwiese" thus constituting a defence pact against the ruling Austrians. But history does tend to repeat itself, so sadly war was again a topic… happily he did report on the excellent collaboration between the United States and Switzerland in the economic and political sphere.

One notable moment was when Walter Gyger, president of the Peninsula Swiss Club, asked us to rise to honour our home country by singing the Swiss national anthem. Accompanied by the Sartori Band and with the aid of the printed text we started singing, but I must admit not without some problems! Hoping not to offend anybody, I have to say we wouldn't have made a good choir. The many children present showed that they did learn to sing the American national anthem in a more professional manner. Nevertheless it was a touching moment and I am sure that hearts were beating faster…for whatever reason.

After this sudorific work everybody was awaiting the buffet. Most of the club members must know what will be served after many years of celebrating this event. However, Tanja and I took a peek at the food beforehand, and couldn't wait to get started. Well at this point I don't know if I should start describing all the delicious salads offered, because when it comes to food I can hardly stop celebrating the flavors which delighted our senses….stop! I will just mention that the Fleischkaese reminded me of my Boy Scout times which I enjoyed so much. This was followed by great deserts rounding off a truly perfect First of August dinner.

A good and real First of August cannot end without a Lampion Umzug (lantern parade) for the children. It was touching to see the many children holding the colourful lanterns, their eyes wide open and obviously happy. Even if it is not essential for life, keeping and transmitting these traditions can make a difference. We thank the organizers of this First of August celebration in California, and look forward to the Waldfest, of course with the wine tasting.

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last updated: 05-Feb-2006 9:09 AM