Christmas is an important celebration throughout Switzerland.
Most families gather on Christmas Eve, the evening of December 24.
This Christian tradition retains traces of pre-Christian customs, both Roman and Nordic (such as the tree, which goes back to the almost universal symbol of the Tree of Life.)
There is an interesting difference in comparison with American customs: Santa Claus plays a much smaller part at Christmas.
In the German and French-speaking parts of the country, his role is taken over by the "Christkind" or "Le petit Jйsus," the Christ child, a beautiful, radiant, angel-like being with wings, dressed in white with a shining crown and a magic wand.
Usually parents decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. But more and more, especially young families are adopting the American way of having a decorated tree and electric lights all through December.
After an early dinner, the whole family, ideally several generations, gathers around the tree. Songs and sometimes hymns are sung. Some read the birth passage from the bible. Gifts are exchanged.
Those who are not too tired go to midnight mass which is always particularly festive. The tree is always there on Christmas Eve.
But depending on the region, Christmas gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day, January 1 or January 6.