L’Escalade is a cantonal holiday, that is celebrated way more than any other national or cantonal holiday. It also lasts more than one day! Escalade starts with a weekend of runs (or a series of races of different difficulty levels) and is continued up till the middle of the month with many different celebrations.
What does “L’Escalade” mean?
It means climbing (among others).
Why do we celebrate climbing?
Not to honour all those strong, courageous folks who climb nearby mountains, nope. We celebrate the fact that on the night between 11th and 12th December 1602 the furious Savoyards people didn’t manage to successfully climb the Geneva walls and conquer the city. Yey! Following that logic shouldn’t it be called “Pas d’Escalade” or something?
Who were they again?
The Savoyards, led by Charles Emmanuel I. Encouraged by the pope, the catholic Savoy wanted to conquer the protestant Geneva.
Furious Savoyards? That’s not nice!
Not now, but back then – why would Geneva folks speak nicely of people who attacked them in the middle of the night? This is how the official Escalade anthem describes them – “Savoyards furieux”. Details below.
When do we celebrate?
The celebrations start on December 1&2 with the Escalade run (followed by a candlelight parade in the evening). From 7 to 9 December, in the Old Town of Geneva, volunteer actors from the historical reconstruction group “La Compagnie 1602” perform scenes from the daily life of Geneva at the end of the 16th century. Sunday, December 9 it’s the time for the traditional Escalade parade (approx. 800 volunteers on horse and foot). Visit this website for more details.
Running – a marathon again?
No, just 7.3 km running up and down around Geneva and its old town. There are several options of the course’s length, including those for kids.
Chocolate cauldron aka marmite
The legend has it that the Mere Royaume (wife of Pierre Royuame and mother to 14, bless her, children), was cooking when she saw the troops approaching the La Monnaie gate, where the family lived. She had opened the window and poured the boiling soup on the attackers, and then also threw the heavy cauldron their way.
To commemorate this legendary/urban myth, somewhere at the end of the XIX century Geneva started making chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan veggies. Oh, and by the cauldron, I mean “la marmite”.
To smash it, take the youngest and the oldest person in the room to smash the marmite together while saying “Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République!” (Eng. Thus perished the enemies of the Republic!).
Yes! A song about furious Savoyards that may explain the common reluctance towards the frontaliers, though… those from Ain were not involved, so maybe the roots of this border conflicts come from elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if someone rings your door on the Escalade day and asks for candy after singing the song. It is a mixture of Halloween and carols choirs, isn’t it?
There is another song for Escalade: “Cé qu’è lainô” (meaning “He who is above”), and that is not any song but the Geneva anthem that tells the Escalade story.
Why? I have no idea, I have been trying to find the explanation for this Escalade tradition, but couldn’t find anything specific. Maybe you could help me out? Anyway, if you are one of those people who does not need any reason to wear a scary or a silly costume, then Escalade seems like a great fit! Go over to this article on Parentville to find out where to get a costume.