Meaning, legacy behind Midway City’s Swiss Days
Midway City’s town square became a cultural hub for roughly 100,000 visitors Friday and Saturday as the town celebrated Swiss Days, a tradition stretching back to the 1940s within the small corner of Heber Valley.
Rob Sorensen, the event’s executive committee member over entertainment, spoke to The Park Record about the event’s history and how a celebration rooted in Swiss tradition has found an annual home in the Wasatch Back.
“When the pioneers first came to the Salt Lake area, the Swiss immigrants were really missing their homes and so the leaders of the Mormon Church sent them up to this area because it reminded them most of Switzerland,” Sorensen said. “It’s where the two mountain ranges cross, the Wasatch as well as the Uinta, and so it’s really caused ragged mountains right in this area.”
Given the heavy Swiss heritage of the area, residents began holding harvest festivals, a tradition Switzerland’s government-run website says is still observed as dairy workers who spend their winters in the Alps “come together in the given village’s square and spout off jokes for public amusement, also making fun of local celebrities and politicians.”
While no Midway City government officials appeared to be openly mocked in the streets during the local celebration, there were plenty of unique performances, men in lederhosen, Swiss flags and at least one Texan with powerful yodeling skills.
The celebration has evolved from a more traditional and relatively quaint festival to become a celebration of the community at large, one Utahns are invited to and are seemingly eager to attend. With the Utah Office of Tourism’s estimate that about 100,000 people visit the event, its total attendance is estimated to surpass that of Burning Man. Also, you can leave Swiss Days if it rains.
Though the celebration has grown large, it remains personal to many.
For some long-time residents of Midway City, the festival has taken on a deeper meaning and become an observance not only of local heritage, but also part of their family legacy.
Clay Coleman, a longtime resident of Midway City and Swiss Days volunteer of over 35 years, died earlier this year at age 58.
His brother Clint said attending the festival Clay cared so much about allowed the family to feel close to their departed loved one.
“His brother was my real friend,” Mark Nelson said, choking back tears.
“We can feel him here,” Clint said. “It’s been good. It’s been good for our family.”
Nelson, the event’s executive committee member over vendors, has lived in Midway City and been involved in Swiss Days for 22 years.
During that time, he’s seen significant growth though one key factor has remained the same.
“In every one of these executive meetings or in all of the meetings with the 500 volunteers that put this thing on, we always say some version of this: This is a celebration for Midway residents,” he said. “This is our party for us.”
The spirit of Swiss Days lies in its community foundation, he said, even as the demographics and affiliations of the community venture from its Swiss and Mormon roots, and become more diverse.
“The challenge for Swiss Days is to maintain all of those good feelings and that good spirit of working together and serving and make sure that it includes everyone,” Nelson said, looking at a crowd of volunteers serving Swiss tacos instead of Navajo tacos. “Some of them are Republicans, and some of them are Democrats, and some of them want this, and some of them want that. But this is one of those great things that brings everyone together, and I don’t care what that guy over there thinks about Trump or Biden or anything else. We just jump in here and do Swiss Days — and have a good time.”
The Wasatch County Council is considering an ordinance that would update how a private individual can obtain a permit to plow seasonal county roads.
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