the böögg has spoken

This is a guest post by Kate’s good friend Martin.

If you like umlauts, those two dots that appear over some vowels in German, then you would’ve loved Zurich yesterday. It was Züri Sächsilüüte featuring the burning of the Böögg. Sächsilüüte is an annual holiday found only Zürich. With a three-hour parade, an exploding snowman, flying bread, flying fish, and an official work holiday, it was a splendid way to spend a day off.

The holiday traces its roots to medieval times when the day marked the switch to summer working hours. The working day ended at sundown during the winter and then switched to six o’clock during the summer. Sächsilüüte (which translates to six o’clock ringing) was a chance for the city’s guilds to celebrate the changeover that brought the first daylight free time of the year. Nowadays, the guilds still exist as societal clubs and create a long procession through the streets with historic costumes, bands, horses, floats, flowers, and more. But my favorite part of the day was the tradition within the traditions, as explained to me throughout the day by my friend Andrea and our sweet elderly hosts. For example, women traditionally bring flowers and run out into the middle of the parade to give them to any passerby they know. And, as always, you accompany the greeting with three cheek kisses. This could turn the whole affair into an unorganized mess, but the parade keeps moving nevertheless with men whose arms can barely hold all the flowers. Learning these small details really helps you learn more about the city’s history (and why everyone is carrying around baskets of flowers). Another tradition is that locals cook cervelats (a Swiss sausage) on the ambers of the burnt snowman.

Oh, the snowman, about that . . .

At six o’clock, thousands of people gather around a large snowman (the Böögg), light him on fire, and time how long it takes for the explosive in his head to go off. It’s like Groundhog Day, but there has never been a great film made about it. The faster the explosion, the better the summer will be. And at 10 minutes and 56 seconds, the Böögg was finished, forecasting a nice warm summer.

It all sounds kind of crazy, and it was. But it was a great experience. With the summer-like weather we’ve been having, it felt festive to be outside enjoying the sun. And since the spring weather already returned today, I can only hope that the Böögg is right.

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  1. […] I just referred to today as the “snowman/groundhog day-like holiday” to my family, and which Martin wrote about a few years ago. I’m not sure we’ll be up for fighting the crowds on Monday, but we’re definitely […]

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