Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sechesläuten! It's not a party until you burn a Böög and roast wieners on the ashes.


There is definitely one thing that I really enjoy about Switzerland and holidays - public bonfires. During the entire Christmas season there was a public fire Stübli by the train station in Baden every night. But nothing beats the symbolic burning of an effigy. This is something powerful in this European tradition. Having seen something similar in Bologna, Italy this past New Year's Eve, I'm beginning to think that the burning of effigies is something lacking in American holiday traditions.

Guilds parade in Zürich 
Sechseläutern is an annual spring festival held in Zürich to celebrate the coming of the summer months. It historically represents the change in working hours to end at 6pm. In medieval times, city laws governed working times during the winter to last until sundown. As the winter months came to and end, the law dictated that work would end at 6pm. The word "sechseläutern" literally refers to the clock striking 6pm. This was celebrated by the members of the guilds (or Zünfte) because they could now enjoy some hours of daylight after a day of work.

What better way to celebrate the oncoming, enjoyable months of summer than by literally blowing-up the head of Old Man Winter? After the parade of guilds, guild members set fire to an enormous wood pile with a snowman, called der Böögg, perched upon the top.

But wait! It gets better.

Burn baby, burn!
Der Böögg's head is full of explosives. As the fire is lit from the bottom of the pile, the people of Zürich anxiously keep time on their watches. Time is taken from the lighting of the fire to the explosion of the Böögg's head and this time is supposed to be an indication of the weather in the summer to come. The quicker the fire burns, the sunnier and more wonderful the summer to come.  Kind of like Groundhog Day but more...BBQ.

Unfortunately for us, this year was extremely rainy and liquid fuel had to be added to the soaking wet snowman. It still burned in about 7 minutes. After the fire has burned down to a safe level, families often bring sausages to roast on the remains. Take that winter.