One of the stranger, albeit fun, holidays I’ve celebrated in Zurich is the Sechseläuten Festival, a traditional spring holiday that is commemorated every April on the third Monday.
My friends and I gathered among the thousands of people in old town to watch the “burning away of winter” – sort of the Swiss version of Groundhog Day but way more exciting…just because there is fire and explosions involved 🙂 And also because it was the second sunny warm day so far in Zurich this year!
The holiday tradition began in medieval times when the guilds would celebrate the first day of summer working hours, ending the workday earlier, at 6 pm. Therefore, Sechseläuten is a Swiss German word that literally means, “The six o’clock ringing of the bells”.
The celebration begins in the early afternoon with a long procession of the different guilds – men, women and children dressed in traditional costumes parading down to the center square of Bellevue in Zurich. Among the many festivities are also food vendors and a big carnival with rides for the children.
After a few hours of drinking in the sun and eating bratwurst and ice cream, we were ready for the main event. At precisely 6 o’clock (punctually Swiss), there is a “burning of winter” – an effigy represented by the Böögg, which is today, a giant snowman prepared with explosives on top of a wooden pyre. The pyre is lit and the crowds anticipate its demise. Popular tradition has it that the time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg’s head is indicative of the coming summer: a quick burning and explosion represents a warm, sunny summer and a long burning of the Böögg represents a cold and rainy one.
The shortest time that has been recorded was 5:07 minutes in 1974. I’m not sure what kind of summer they had…unfortunately for me, yesterday’s burn at 35:11 minutes is the LONGEST ever recorded. If the myth holds, that would mean I arrived in Zurich just in time for the longest winter in their history (2012-2013), only to be followed by what will be their worst summer in history? Oh poo…