The Jeûne Genevois is Geneva’s very own holiday, celebrated the Thursday following the first Sunday of the month of September each year. While most of Switzerland observes a fasting holiday the Monday following the third Sunday in September (the Jeûne Fédéral, or “Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer”, according to Wikipedia), Geneva proudly keeps its own identity with Jeûne Genevois.
So what is Jeûne Genevois all about? Strangely enough, not many people in Geneva seem to know much about it. Apart from eating plum pies or “tartes aux pruneaux”, a custom on the day, there’s hardly any connection with the origin of the holiday today.
The term “Jeûne Genevois” is French for “Genevan Fast”. Though not many people fast on this day nowadays, many make sure to have plum pies. These pies used to be the only meal eaten by 16th Century Genevans when the fast was observed. In the Middle Ages, certain holidays were set aside to be observed as fasting days. Fasting served as penitence, especially after catastrophes such as plagues or other epidemics, and war.
Although there is some ambiguity about the origins of the Jeûne Genevois, it is generally believed that the fast began in 1567 in remembrance of the repression of the Protestants in Lyon, France. Five years later, in 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the slaughter of several thousand Huguenots shifted the fast in Geneva ahead by almost a month.
By 1640, the fast had become yearly and was carried on even after the Genevan revolution of 1792. The holiday was celebrated unofficially, and over the years, lost its religious importance. Then, in 1966, it was declared an official holiday. Today one could say that the Jeûne Genevois, now a patriotic holiday more than a religious one, has its roots Geneva’s Protestant history