Answer: a Swiss Christmas

The Swiss have spread their Christmas rather thinly, and it shows. Despite starting on December 6 with ‘Samichlaus’ (St Nicholas’ Day) and ending with ‘Dreikönigstag’ (Three Kings Day) on January 6, Christmas in Switzerland can disappoint.

You may imagine that at least it must be “Christmassy”. In your mind's eye you might see Christmas-card-like winter-wonderland scenes of snow, deep and crisp and even; dining tables weighed down with turkey and all the trimmings, crackers, party hats, maiden aunts giggling after their annual glass of sherry, the latest blockbuster movie on TV. There will be none of it and even white Christmases are rare in the lowlands. Bing eat your heart out!

Say goodbye too to mince pies, turkey, Christmas pud and everything else edible you hold dear and prepare to get stuck into Grittibänz (gingerbread men with no ginger in them) and Guetzli (rather tasty biscuits).

Even St Nicholas is different: by rights the good Saint should pile down from the North Pole in a sleigh loaded with enough goodies to cheer the heart of any kid. But the Swiss St Nicholas turns up on foot with a donkey and a dirty faced assistant with nothing more than a measly sack containing a few oranges and nuts. Being Swiss he’s überpünktlich – two weeks early in fact, on December 6. Then, he doesn’t even hand out his meager rations without first ensuring the recipients have been well behaved all year. If that’s what you get for being good, you can imagine the penalties for misbehaving are high. Suffice it to say that St Nick leaves the parents of wayward children a bunch of twigs to administer suitable punishments.

Trees also feature high in Swiss Christmas celebrations. Real ones of course and the reality extends to the candles. That is why there is little drinking over the Christmas period – one has to stay alert and ready with a sand bucket.

But count yourself very privileged, as this year the holiday falls on a Thursday and Friday and if you work you’ll at least get a couple of days off - the same with New Year. Next year the holiday falls over a weekend and that means no days off in lieu.

If you are expecting December 25 to be the high spot of the year, you will find Swiss families will have finished their celebrations by then. Because on the 24th they sit round their trees and sing a carol or two. The wine will flow, but not to excess. Without a party hat in sight, a quiet old time will be had by all.

The good news is that New Year is something the Swiss know how to let in with style. You can’t go to bed before midnight even if you wanted to. Firecrackers and church bells see to that.