Every year on December11-12, Geneva holds an annual festival, Escalade, celebrating its victory over the Savoyard soldiers on the night of December 11-12, 1602. There is a torch-bearing procession of locals dressed in period costumes through the streets of the old town. Many restaurants have special menus for the occasion and families get-together to celebrate over food.
Beginning of the Escalade procession
Geneva, Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe and, as the world’s capital of peace, is filled with peace-making and humanitarian history. It is also the paradise for chocolate lovers. After all, the Swiss invented both dark and milk chocolate.
I love chocolate and European history, and when the two come together, I am in heaven.
December 2014, I travelled to Geneva to attend Escalade, an annual celebration of Geneva’s victory of a famous battle that took place the night of December 11-12, 1602 – more than 400 years ago.
Historically, at the time, Geneva was not yet part of the Swiss Confederation. The Duke of Savoy, determined to reclaim the wealthy city after having lost it, sent his soldiers during the cover of night to climb the fortified walls to seize it. A terrible battle ensued, many lost their lives, but several residents were courageous and are still today remembered for it.
In particular, a local woman, Mère Royaume, climbed onto the city walls and poured a cauldron of hot soup over the head of an intruding Savoyard soldier. To honour her heroism, and to remember her by, Geneva’s chocolatiers created special “chocolate pots,” which are ornately designed and filled with tiny marzipan vegetables, a symbol of her cauldron of soup. Although the date of the origins of Geneva’s chocolate pot is unknown (chocolate in the form we have come to know was not yet invented), it has been a long tradition in this city to make these special treats for the Escalade celebrations.
During Escalade, locals get dressed in period costumes and walk, or ride horses, around the old town recreating the atmosphere of the 17th century, where mulled wine fills the air, and one can try roasted boar that is cooked in the open air, and other foods of the era.
On the evening of December 12th, (or the closest date to it that falls on a weekend), there is a traditional torch bearing procession with locals in costume through the streets of the old town. Unfortunately for me, this year, it poured rain the night of the procession. As I stood in the bone-chilling downpour, along with many others who braved the weather, under a canopy of umbrellas, the theatrics gave me a real sense of that time in history. A proclamation of victory is read while folks are gathered around, then many broke out into singing patriotic songs. It was worth every second.
There are many other activities throughout the Escalade weekend in Geneva. Several restaurants have special menus for the occasion. Families get together to celebrate over food and, of course, the famous “chocolate pots.”
The chocolate pots of Escalade (I made this one)
According to tradition, the chocolate pot is put on the table, and then the eldest and youngest in the room join hands and together they smash it, releasing the contents of tiny marzipan vegetables for everyone to enjoy.
At a restaurant in the old town, I had the privilege of witnessing a large family who gathered to celebrate Escalade. After eating their meal, a large chocolate pot was put in the centre of the table, everyone in the room broke into a traditional folksong, and grandpa and a child, together, smashed the chocolate pot to smithereens. Everyone in the restaurant cheered them on, clapping and singing. It was so much fun, I only wish I had known the songs.
There is nothing like Escalade anywhere in the world. So if you enjoy history and want to try these special chocolate pots, pack your bags and go to Geneva in December.
Photo credit: all small photos of Escalade courtesy of Swiss Tourism.
Resources: Geneva Tourism and Switzerland Tourism
Shannon Skinner is the award-winning host/creator of ExtraordinaryWomenTV.com, radio host, international speaker, author and travel writer.
*This article was originally published in Infinity Magazine.