The “Escalade” celebration, a symbolic tradition in Geneva
5 Nov 2020

The history of the “Escalade”

The Escalade (scaling the defensive wall) is an annual celebration of the Protestant Genevan people’s victory over the Catholic Duke of Savoy’s surprise attack on the rich, independent and liberal Republic of Geneva during the darkest night of the year on 11-12 December 1602.  According to the legend, the Savoyard troops were held up from entering the City by Dame Royaume who threw a pot of boiling vegetable soup – the famous “marmite” –  on the invaders before raising the alarm. 

Centuries later, the Escalade remains a symbol of religious and political freedom, which is celebrated every year on 12 December by the Genevan population of all ages: Around 11 December, schoolchildren dressed up in costumes, ring at doorbells in the hope of receiving coins or sweets. Locals invite their family and friends to gather around a chocolate “marmite”, which is traditionally smashed by the eldest and youngest person to the words “Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République”. Commemorative chocolate “marmite” (cauldrons) filled with marzipan vegetables will soon adorn local shops. 

Every year, the main attraction consists in a three-day programme of medieval animations organised by the historical Compagnie de 1602. The highlight is the extensive, colourful parade of over 800 persons, some on horseback, all in 17th century dresses, winding through the old town to the sound of fifes and drums, illuminated by handheld torches. A declamation is read out next to a huge fire of joy, concluding the event in front of the Protestant Cathedral.

A delegation of the Compagnie de 1602_©L_Buscarlet

The Escalade celebration at La Pastorale 

The traditional Fête de l‘Escalade is one of the most important events which is organised annually, in December, at the International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI) premises.

Held under the Patronage of the UN, the Federal, Cantonal and Communal Authorities it enables Cagi to present one of Geneva’s finest traditions to newly arrived International Geneva employees, their family members, as well as friends of International Geneva.

Each edition of the Fete de l‘Escalade is an unforgettable event which owes its success not only to the commitment of its various contributors, but also to its guests’ active participation.  In cooperation with the Newcomer Network Service and its dedicated  group of Fondation pour Genève volunteers, Cagi is able to propose a truly unique experience,  bringing the local and international communities together to celebrate this local tradition in a friendly atmosphere. 

Nearly 670 guests gather at the venue each year to enjoy a wonderful blend of culture, folklore and history. Upon their arrival, guests are immersed in a magical atmosphere thanks to the faithful participation of La Compagnie de 1602, the Fifres et Tambours of the Popular Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theatre, Geneva and the Sonneurs du Jet d’Ô.

After a warm glass of mulled wine, all the guests are required to cooperate and make their own cheese fondue together. Specialists are on hand to assist when necessary, but despite the different cultures, nationalities and languages grouped around each Fondue “caquelon”, the exemplary collaboration between the guests always results in a truly tasty Fondue. Guests are then offered to close the meal with a typical Swiss desert composed of meringues and thick Gruyère cream.

Smashing the Marmite_ ©Cagi

Smashing the “marmite”, the highlight of the celebration

For the smashing ceremony of the “marmite”, representatives of the 5 continents take place on the stage and are accompanied by the sound of the drums. The President of the Newcomers Network  explains the traditional gestures by inviting the 5 elected international newcomers to raise their swords and pronounce together and in front of the assembly, the traditional sentence: “Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République”.

“Cé qu’è lainô “, the traditional song of the Escalade

Accompanied by 4 trumpets, some members of the Company of 1602 with the whole assembly stand up to sing Cé qu’è lainô. This song is the official hymn of the Republic and canton of Geneva relating the Escalade story in Arpitan (an ancient regional dialect).

The chocolate Marmite_©Cagi

A special edition for the Escalade 2020 at CAGI

Facing the Covid-19 situation, CAGI will maintain this event again this year but adjust it to the current circumstances. On Wednesday, December 2, CAGI will invite newcomers from international Geneva to an online celebration of the Fête de l’Escalade

The programme consists in short speeches by the UN and Host Country officials, followed by  a presentation of the Compagnie de 1602 costumes, a ceremonial breaking of the chocolate “marmite” accompanied by the official hymn of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

Invited guests will receive a voucher for a chocolate “marmite” for free (kindly offered by Migros) to be picked up at any Migros shop – the “marmite” will be smashed live on line with the organisers during this virtual event. Watch out for CAGI’s invitation letter to make sure not to miss this year‘s special Escalade celebration.

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