Smashing a Chocolate Cauldron for Geneva’s Fête de l’Escalade

Have you heard of Geneva’s Fête de l’Escalade? This annual celebration commemorates the successful thwarting of the Duke of Savoy’s attempt to gain control over Geneva. It includes a unique food tradition that involves chocolate — one that should not be missed if you find yourself in Geneva from early to mid-December.

What is the chocolate tradition for the Fête de l’Escalade? Each year, the citizens of Geneva take part in the tradition of smashing a chocolate marmite (cauldron) decorated with the city’s colors — red and yellow, and its coat of arms. The cauldron is typically smashed on December 12, and there is a specific ritual that accompanies this process. Within a family household, for example, the youngest and the oldest join hands and recite the phrase, “Ainsi périrent (or périssent) les ennemis de la République,” — which translates to something like, “Thus perished (or perishes) the enemies of the Republic!” Then, they smash the chocolate cauldron with their clasped fists.

What is the significance of the chocolate cauldron? The attack of the Savoyards on Geneva took place during the evening of December 11, 1602. That night, when the soldiers arrived and the church bells sounded the alarm, the citizens of Geneva took it upon themselves to stop the invasion. Legend has it that Mère Royaume, a woman who was cooking a pot of soup, threw her cauldron and its scalding contents out the window to prevent the enemy from advancing. Although a rather violent act, it symbolizes the spirit of the Genevois during this battle — regular citizens taking the initiative to protect their city… And, succeeding! To honor the occasion, chocolatiers in Geneva began creating cauldrons that are made of chocolate and filled with sweet little marzipan versions of Mère Royaume’s vegetables. The cauldron tradition apparently was not established until the 1880s.

Where can you buy a chocolate cauldron? The official Fête de l’Escalade takes place the weekend closest to December 11-12. Around this time, you will find chocolate cauldrons on display in the windows of chocolatiers throughout the city. Here are several chocolatiers in Geneva that make these special marmites.

You can also find them at supermarkets, like Manor or Migros, in Geneva.

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