Celebrating Christmas together

Photo: Graziella Christen Terrani and Stefan Meier have organised the Zuger Wiehnacht for 35 years.
Graziella Christen Terrani is well known in the city of Zug, and many people say that Christmas only really starts when she delivers her posters announcing the “Zuger Wiehnacht” in the Rathauskeller. Together with the chef of the Rathauskeller, Stefan Meier, and four to six volunteers, she has now been organising this open-house event for 35 years, for all those who like to celebrate Christmas in a larger community. “Those who come to celebrate with us are not necessarily lonely, but simply happy to meet other people”, insists Christen. Family members from three generations sometimes attend the celebration.
“Some come to eat, some to create decorations and others simply to sing before attending Midnight Mass.” People come and go, and there are many interesting encounters. “Last year, a group of young asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka came with their counsellors,” says Graziella. “They were very creative, and took over the decoration of the tree.” An Islamic family also attended one year, and the event has welcomed people from all parts of the world. “The occasion is not primarily Christian. It's open to everyone.” A special atmosphere arises among the guests, and many of them come back year after year, with more than 100 people taking part in 2017.
The Rathauskeller opens its doors for the event from 7 p.m., with soups and drinks prepared and donated by the host, Stefan Meier. Nuts, fruits, pastries and craft materials are provided by the operators of the surrounding shops, with only alcoholic beverages having to be paid for. If the event results in a deficit, which Christen says is rare, she can appeal to several generous donors or the City of Zug.
In the course of the evening, the donated craft materials are used to create all kinds of decorations for the Christmas tree, which comes from the corporation forest and is installed on the Fischmärt by the employees of Werkhof Zug. “When we have finished the decorations, we gather around the tree and sing traditional Christmas songs”, says Graziella, “including Spanish, French or Italian ones”. Although she herself was born in Zug, her mother came from Ticino, and Graziella speaks five languages and lived in Spain for a long time. She first saw the light of day in the middle of Zug on the longest night of the year, which may explain her special connection to this dark time illuminated by lights.
Before the Zug Wiehnacht was created in its current form, the host of the Bahnhofbuffet used to open his restaurant on Christmas Eve. Due to the regular cases of heavy drinking and scuffles, however, he finally gave up, disenchanted and frustrated.
Following this, no restaurant opened its doors on Christmas Eve for several years. “Together with Barbara and Ueli Deutsch. as well as Christian Bisig, I went from one restaurant to the other to ask whether the hosts could consider organising an open house on Christmas Eve.” Without success, however, and we ended up, frustrated, at the regulars’ table of the Rathauskeller, and considered what to do next.”
“The young landlord, Hubert Erni, approached us and spontaneously offered us the Rathauskeller, together with his assistance”, says Graziella Christen. In order to avoid excesses like those experienced in the Bahnhofbuffet, they opted for craft activities and decided against the provision of free alcohol. The concept worked, right from the start. The occasion was and is appreciated by many people, and is seen as an enrichment.
The sprightly pensioner is now thinking of passing on her organisational activities to a younger person. “It involves a lot of work and a great responsibility” she says. Graziella Christen Terrani will continue to be there with enthusiasm as a guest and helper, however.
«Zuger Wiehnacht» offers an open house at the Rathauskeller in Zug from 7 p.m. on December 24.
A Christmas tree will be decorated on the Fischmärt at about 10 p.m., followed by the community singing of traditional Christmas carols.