Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Slowly Sizzling Snowman Signifies Soggy Swiss Summer

You may remember that in my previous post I mentioned how I recently got the "green light" from the doctor that I can ride my road bike outside again. That was very exciting news to me -- buuuuuut, unfortunately I haven't been able to take advantage of it yet, since it has been raining almost constantly ever since then!!

I have reason to believe that I have a snowman to blame for these never-ending rainy days lately. I witnessed the deciding moment myself last week, during the annual Zurich holiday called "Sechseläuten". On this special day each year, a huge snowman is stuffed with explosives and stuck on a tall pedastal in the middle of a square in Zurich.

The snowman's name is "Böög" (which means "masked figure" and was known to frighten children - Sounds like what we'd call the "boogey man"). But isn't he cute??
The tradition is sort of like a Swiss version of the U.S. "Groundhog Day" (only this one seems a bit more violent to me since it involves exploding an innocent snowman rather than just a rodent and its shadow or lack thereof!). Here, at exactly 6pm, the pyre on which the snowman stands is lit, and the time that it all takes to fully explode determines how warm/dry this summer will be (shorter time to explosion = warmer/drier summer and vice versa).

The tradition supposedly started back in the days when laborers were expected to work until dark every night all year, even in the long evenings of the summertime, until a change was made so that they were allowed to stop working at 6pm. So after that they finally had some non-working daylight hours - Sounds like a good reason to celebrate to me! A bell tolls at 6pm to signify the end of work time. Hence the start time of this event, and it's name comes from the German for ~ "6 times the bell rings". The exploding of the snowman signifies the end of winter and the beginning of the longer (work-free daylight-full) evenings.

I met up with our Swiss friend Martina to witness this event - It's always nice to have the local "insider's scoop" for experiencing these kinds of things (plus always great to have an excuse to get together with her!). Martina obviously smiled the right way at one of the guys performing in the parade part of the event and got a nice rose out of it...
Anyway, back to the incinerating of poor ol' Frosty... This year the burning went on and on and on... As it continued, I pushed my way back thru the crowd to the nearby department store and bought all the umbrellas and raincoats they had left in stock... The resale of these (in high demand) should help fund our summer European excursions ;) (especially important since it looks like we'll have to travel outside of Switzerland to see the sunshine this summer!)
It is hard to describe just how loud the explosions were, but maybe this video will help a little... Notice how the bomb-like sounds caused the little girl near us to sob uncontrollably (did I mention they were loud?!). Also notice the horsemen with flags galloping around during the whole thing (I'm thinkin this just wouldn't even be allowed in the US)...


Finally the burning was reported to be complete after exactly 26 minutes and 1 second (Swiss precision as always).

Here's a link to another video online that captured it well (& ya gotta love the music!).
This supposedly means we are in for a rather wet and cool summertime, and Mother Nature has stayed true to that verdict so far. Still the locals celebrated after the explosion was final...parteeee....
Then right away the rain started -- No kidding!

"Braucht jemand einen Regenschirm?" (Umbrella, anyone?) :-)

As Martina mentioned in her comment, there is usually a huge barbeque party afterward, where people use coals from the burned Böög to cook their wurst. It must stay reeeeeeally hot all around the area where the bonfire was -- Take a look at her video of one brave guy fetching the coals...

Hopefully the weather will be drier at next year's event so we can experience this part of the tradition as well! mmmm.....


Brian said...

Boom, boom, boom, out go Frosty's lights! Tschuss!

Sandy & Dick said...

OMGoodness...what a strange celebration! Love the alliteration:-) Thanks for the lesson on local customs...hugs!!!

Anonymous said...

What Becky didn't tell you is that this celebration is also called the biggest barbeque in Europe!:-) After the Böög's head has exploded, the official part is slowly over, half of each of the guilds go to their respective restaurants while the other halfs including the bands travel through town paying their respect to the other guilds (Becky, maybe you need to explain this in propre english, I don't know if people can understand this the way I wrote it). Meanwhile, the mob waits until the fire has burned down enough for people to get as close as a couple meters (usually takes 2-3hrs). Some of the brave guys use shovels that they have prolonged with wooden sticks to take a handfull of coal out of the fire. Everybody then sits in groups around one of the charcoal piles and starts roasting sausages. I remember the last two years, we were sitting there with short sleves at midnight, however this year, only very few extreeeeeemely addicted barbequers braved the elements.... We skipped that part and had supper at Becky's friend Thomas' house.
Well now the story is complete! :-)
Greetings from RAINY AND COLD Zürich

chocolate girl said...

Crazy traditions! I love it! Rain, rain, go away. Blow up the snowman and bring out the Sun, man. Thanks for giving us a peek into your new kooky life in Suisse land!!! hehe

Anonymous said...

Hey Becky. This is great. Reminds me of the annual Christmas tree burning celebration in January in Amsterdam. What's with these Europeans and public displays of fire!?!