Sechseläuten: Spring festival in Zürich, Switzerland

Sechseläuten is a traditional spring holiday in Zürich, one of the first unique Zürich traditions that we got to witness!

Tradition of Sechseläuten and the Böögg

The tradition of Sechseläuten, which directly translates to the six o’clock ringing of the bells, dates back to 1525. The light faded early in winter causing workers to end their days by 5pm. With longer days in summer, it was decided that work should continue until 6pm. The ringing of the second largest bell in the Grossmünster at 6pm, signaled the beginning of spring and the new working hours, and the switch to summer time was the cause for celebrations.

The Böögg, or bogeyman, is said to have ancient (read pre-christian) roots. In Zürich, the Böögg was designed in the form of a snowman, symbolizing winter, and burnt on the spring equinox. Each quarter burnt its own Böögg, independent of the Sechseläuten celebrations. In 1902 the two merged into one tradition and the Böögg became the protagonist of Sechseläuten celebrations.

Modern day Sechseläuten celebrations

Today, Sechseläuten is celebrated on the third Monday of April (unless it is Easter Monday, then it is celebrated on the 4th Monday- they have a rule for everything!). It begins with a parade of the guilds, comprising up to 350 horse riders and almost 3000 guildsmen. They are all dressed in medieval costume, and ends with the burning of the Böögg, filled with firecrackers, at 6pm precisely. Zürich’s inhabitants claim that the Böögg serves to predict the weather in the coming summer, faster the Böögg’s head explodes, the finer the summer will be. The one we watched took 9 min 56 sec – here’s hoping for a really good summer in 2017!

March of the guilds, Sechseläuten
March of the guilds, Sechseläuten

The largest outdoor public BBQ

Remains of the Boogg

Having read this, we arrived armed with toasting forks, sausages and sides, and beer (of course)! From the cordoned off streets, the parade and the big blaze, it wasn’t clear at all how the BBQ would happen. Fortunately most people had picnic bags, so there was hope. What followed was very interesting. Once the parade was completely over, the area around the huge bonfire was covered with damp sand and the barricades were lifted, opening it up to us all. All you needed to do was find a spot, dig a shallow ditch in the sand, bring a shovel-full of hot embers, and voila- the BBQ pit was ready! Fortunately there were enough people with shovels to let us borrow one, and soon we had our own little fire pit, tiny, and cute (we’d like to believe), that it even drew an ‘awww’ from a passerby..!

Note to self: next time bring foil, bacon wrapped sausages and s’mores!

The largest open air BBQ
Cervelas and beer!
The embers from the Boogg burning
BBQ smiles

Satiated, and grateful for the balmy evening, it was a great way to begin a fun-filled, warm summer!

Sechseläutenplatz right by the Opera house in Zurich

Interestingly, it reminded us of the fires lit during the festival of Holi. While the stories behind the festival are different, the underlying motives seem similar. Both symbolize the end of winter and are an excuse to come out and celebrate!


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