NEW GLARUS — From Oktoberfest to the Swiss Center of North America, New Glarus is no stranger to tradition — especially where Swiss heritage is involved.
For Jacqueline Judd, those traditions are exactly what make New Glarus home.
Judd grew up in a small town in Switzerland where she took French as a second language, never learning English like many of her classmates. Many of her childhood memories revolve around traditions her home community has known for decades. Now a New Glarus resident, Judd considers the many traditions in the region to be an important part of keeping the memory of her home nation alive.
“I feel like I can’t just let the Swiss traditions go lost,” Judd said. “I want my kids to know where they came from.”
Residents in New Glarus and the surrounding communities can celebrate their Swiss heritage through an annual showing of Johanna Spyri’s “Heidi,” a celebration of the First of August or attendance to the town’s annual Oktoberfest, but one tradition is particularly important to Judd — one that she brought to New Glarus from Switzerland herself.
I want to bring the people who live here some Christmas spirit. And it was just something I wanted to give my kids that they have these memories of what I grew up with.Jacqueline Judd, New Glarus
In 2018, Judd was able to bring to life a tradition that she had missed ever since leaving Switzerland: decorating windows for each day of the advent.
Though she was unsure how much community involvement she would have, Judd decided to reach out to storeowners who she thought might be interested. Within a week, she was able to find a window to be decorated for every day.
During the month of December, one window will be unveiled each night leading up to Christmas. At the unveiling, business or home owners will often read a story to go along with the window and offer drinks or cookies to those who come out to listen.
“I want to bring the people who live here some Christmas spirit,” she said. “And it was just something I wanted to give my kids that they have these memories of what I grew up with.”
Despite Judd’s concern that the community would not have enough participation to fill each day, she now receives more requests to participate each year than there are days in the advent, something which gives her joy when she cannot be with her family back in Switzerland for Christmas.
“They give me a piece from back home,” she said of the New Glarus community.
Judd’s first trip
How she ended up in New Glarus is relatively unextraordinary: Judd wanted to learn English and came across an advertisement for a cooking position at the New Glarus Hotel. Because she was working as a chef in Switzerland at the time, Judd jumped on the opportunity to experience life in America.
“I thought, ‘What better way to learn English than go somewhere where you have to?’” she said.
The following year, in 2007, she prepared to leave for New Glarus on a 13-month visa. Thirteen years later, New Glarus has become a second home for her.
During her initial 13-month stay, Judd met and started dating her future husband, Corbin. Unsure of how to make a trans-Atlantic relationship work, the couple returned to Switzerland before marrying in 2009.
Then, it was time to return to America. After a brief stint in Virginia, Judd knew that she belonged in New Glarus where she could still embrace her Swiss past. In 2012, she returned for good.
A historic move
What drew Judd to New Glarus in the first place — its Swiss charm and promising opportunities — goes back centuries.
New Glarus’ Swiss roots were first planted in the mid-1800s when Appeals Judge Niklaus Dürst and blacksmith Fridolin Streiff came to the American Midwest in search of land to be purchased for Switzerland, according to the Swiss Historical Village of New Glarus’ timeline. They were sent by the nation following economic strife that led the people of the region to partake in an organized emigration.
Dürst and Streiff were to find and purchase the land for 193 colonists who were to leave Switzerland’s Canton Glarus in spring.
Everyone over here has immigrated. Everybody has a past. I feel like my kids should grow up with a better understanding of their past.Jacqueline Judd, New Glarus
The two men visited Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri in search of at least 1,200 acres of land that would provide settlers with plenty of woodland and farmable fields. Most regions they found lacked one or the other, but Green County provided promising land for the settlers.
They purchased the land and shortly thereafter, 135 colonists arrived and New Glarus was born.
Even the restaurant that brought Judd over in the first place, the New Glarus Hotel, can be traced back to the early colonists of the town. Now a Swiss/German restaurant, the building originally opened in 1853 as The New Glarus Haus, the town’s first hotel.
A hint of Deutsch
In the early days of the colony, New Glarus and much of Green County had German-language schools and the language was used in most households. After World War I, German became less accepted in the U.S., accounting for a decline in the use of the language in the region.
When Judd first arrived in New Glarus 90 years later, she had anticipated German to be used more often in the community.
Despite that, the community’s focus on keeping festivals and tradition alive helps connect Judd and others to their original Swiss roots.
“Everyone over here has immigrated,” Judd said, of America’s founding on immigration. “Everybody has a past. I feel like my kids should grow up with a better understanding of their past.”