Swiss Traditions : Sechseläuten

Sechseläuten, a public holiday and traditional festival here in Zürich took place on April 16th this year. Sechseläuten means “ringing of the bells” and has origins dating back to the 19th century. The festival began in the afternoon with a parade of 26 (all male) guilds on horseback, marching, or playing instruments.* It was a cold and rainy day, but luckily that didn’t seem to stop people from coming out to celebrate and the guildsmen simply wore a poncho over top their traditional costumes. From what I’ve seen, many people go up to greet the guildsmen they know and hand them flowers, usually roses. When a chariot comes by, younger boys and girls on board throw candy and bread rolls to the audience. Alex was excited that I managed to catch a roll thrown our way.



Following the parade was the burning of the Böögg; a 10-ft high snowman, made of straw and cotton wool, and is a symbol of winter. The burning took place at Bellevue and was set on fire at exactly 6 pm. Legend has it that the length of time until the snowman’s head explodes is meant to predict what type of summer we’ll have (quite a difference from the U.S.’s version of Groundhog Day). This year it took the Böögg 12 minutes and 7 seconds, meaning that summer should be soon on its way.


After watching the snowman burn, Alex and I went up in the tall Ferris Wheel overlooking the city. Alex had no fear of how high up it went, instead he enjoyed laughing at me as I had trouble to even look over the side.


As much as the Swiss love to have a festival, nothing brings more joy to their hearts than cleaning up afterwards. Less than 1 hour after the event, several street sweepers were already busy tidying up. Swiss efficiency at it’s best I’d say!


*Side note: The women’s guild was not “allowed” to march alongside the male guilds this year, but had a separate parade before the main one. Last Sechseläuten marked the first year women marched in the same parade.  You would think that by the 21st century the mindset would have changed. Let’s hope next year proves otherwise!


6 thoughts on “Swiss Traditions : Sechseläuten

  1. Joan Lee

    So interesting, Steph! There is so much we don’t know about other places in the world. I couldn’t believe the size of the snowman. Love to all, Joan

  2. Burning the snowman? Alex wasn’t sad? i mean, it’s a Snowman we are talking about. A symbol of the joy of every kids!! Well, i do hope summer will be here very soon then 🙂 Great post, thanks for sharing..

    1. No, thankfully he wasn’t sad at all. Instead he was a bit unsure of what was going on around him and when the firecrackers inside the snowman’s head went off, he was a bit scared, otherwise all fine though. 🙂

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