You know it’s almost Christmas time in Zug when you find a puppet show in a bank, a storyteller in a hotel, Samichalus stories on a boat and musical fairy tails in a violin shop. No, I haven’t lost my mind from weeks of disturbed sleep, these things really happen and we call it ...
Märlisunntig, translated from Swiss German as “Fairytale Sunday," has been part of the Advent scene in the city of Zug for 34 years. For one afternoon in December, this year on the 10th, the roads in the old town are blocked off from all traffic and are handed over to the fairies, puppets, magicians, story tellers and witches for the afternoon.
Just between us, I am not a huge fan of big crowds and since the festival welcomes around 10,000 visitors each year, I have used any excuse under the sun to stay at home for the past 11 years. But last year I could no longer use the excuse of staying home with little Z ... she wanted to go too! So we hopped on the train and headed to Zug.
Here’s what I found:
Märlisunntig is spread throughout the entire old town of Zug and you will find thirty-four 15-40min shows and activities in various locations dotted over the old town - from hotels, banks, shops, and restaurants to the lake. Download the program from the Märlisunntig website where you can see whats on offer, where each activity takes place, and to which age group it will appeal.
The shows are all in German or more likely “schwiizerduutsch” but even if you aren’t proficient at rolling your r’s, Märlisunntig is still worth a visit. Just think—you can’t understand Italian Operetta’s but you still enjoy those (right?)—so give culture a chance!
Shows are aimed at kids from around 4 years of age, but there are also some toddler friendly shows that will keep them still for 20 minutes, enough for you to relax and maybe enjoy the show too. We didn’t push it too long with Z last year though. She was perfectly capable of sitting through one 20 minute show, but another one would have been pushing it.
This year the kids have their eyes on the story with Zugiblubbi (they are fans since hiking the Zugiblubbi trail back in October) and since the boy is a keen violinist, he is interested in stopping back the violin shop for the “Musikmärchen” (Music Fairytale). What always seems to be a hit is the Kasperli (puppet) show at the Zugerkantonal Bank as well as a Theatre in the Burgbachkeller.
Even if you don’t go for the shows, just walking around town is fun. You will run into a Samichlaus and his friends the Schmutzlis handing out mandarins and nuts. You will hear music, find pony rides, and food stalls to fill you tummy and empty your wallet.
If you can wait it out until 17.30 you are a champion and will be kindly rewarded with the fireworks to finish off an exciting afternoon. Watch along with Samichlaus, his Schmutzlis, jugglers, magicians, and fairytale characters as the fireworks light up the nighttime sky. Having fireworks occur at 17.30 is a HUGE advantage for a winter festival. Finally, you don’t have to keep your kids up past their bedtime to enjoy them!
You’ve got no excuse not to arrive by public transport. Zug is well connected from all directions, so forgo the stress of finding a carpark and leave the car at home. You can catch a train to Zug Main Station and walk the 10 or so minutes into the old town, if the length of the legs in your group will be able to make it that far.
Or, to get closer to the action, take the local S2 train 1 stop from Zug to Postplatz (direction Erstfeld or Walchwil) will land you right behind the old Post Office, steps away from the center of the event.
If you decide to go against my advice and take your car, your best bet is to park around the train station. Keep in mind that the main road through the old town is closed, so watch out for the orange sign posts directing traffic.
Feeding the Kids
As all good Swiss festivals feature food, you will find a variety of options to fill your tummy here, as well. The bazaar, full of market stalls, is located at the Landsgemeindeplatz along the lake. Most restaurants around town are also open, too.
What to Watch out for
With 10,000 people ascending into sleepy Zug you can expect to stand in a line or two. So I would suggest choosing 2 shows to visit and arriving early to make sure you get in. There is limited seating in some locations. Then whatever else you can see afterwards is a bonus.
Although the shows are free, it is warmly suggested that you offer a small donation (called a Kollekte) of appreciation after any show you attend. Look out for a basket or box on your way out and show your appreciation for the artists’ time.
I wont lie, its a tiring afternoon. But is it worth it? You bet. The kids will fall into bed when you get home and dream away the cold dark winter days with images of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Or maybe of Samichlaus, Zugiblubbi, or Zilly.
Have you even been to the Zuger Märlisunntig? Does your town do a similar festival?