The Sechseläuten (Zürich German: Sächsilüüte) is a traditional spring holiday in the Swiss city of Zürich celebrated in its current form since 1904.
Burning of the Böögg
Following the parade of the Zünfte
), the climax of the holiday is the burning of Winter in effigy, in the form of the Böögg
, a figure of a snowman
prepared with explosives. The custom of burning a ragdoll
predates the Sechseläuten
. A Böögg
(cognate to bogey
) was originally a masked character doing mischief and frightening children during the carnival
The holiday used to be held on the first Monday following vernal equinox
. On that day, the Fraumünster
bell, for the first time in the year, tolled to mark the end of working hours at 6 p.m. (historically the time of sunset on vernal equinox
). The holiday was moved to the third Monday of April in 1952. Because of the later date, and because of summer time
introduced in 1981, the lighting of the Böögg
's pyre at 6 p.m. has now moved to several hours before nightfall. Additionally, because of its present date, the holiday is often within a week of 1 May
, leading to a stark contrast between the upper class dominated Sechseläuten
and the working class holiday of May Day
. This proximity of the major festivals of two political poles of the society of Zürich has led to various interferences in the past, for example the abduction of the Böögg
in 2006 by leftist "revolutionaries" a few days before the Sechseläuten
. Since then, several Böögg
s are held in reserve with the main one stored at a bank nearby the Sechseläutenplatz (the open area in front of the Operahaus near Bellevue where most Zürich open air activities take place).
The roots of the festival go back to medival times when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls across the city. City ordinances strictly regulated the length of the working day in that era. During the winter semester the workday in all workshops lasted as long as there was daylight, but during the summer semester (i.e. starting on Monday following vernal equinox
the law proclaimed that work must cease when the church bells tolled at six o'clock. Sechseläuten is a German
word that literally translates into "The six o'clock ringing of the bells". Changing to summer working hours traditionally was a joyous occasion because it marked the beginning of the season where people had some non-working daylight hours.
Popular tradition has it that the time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg
`s head is indicative of the coming summer: a quick explosion promises a warm, sunny summer, a drawn-out burning a cold and rainy one. The shortest time on record is 5:07 minutes in 1974, and the longest in 2001 with 26:23. The 2007 explosion of the Böögg
`s head (on 16 April 2007) took place 12:09 minutes after the pyre was lit, promising a medium warm summer. On 14 April 2008, heavy rains soaked the Böögg and the wood pyre materials so much that "firemen" in the style of Fahrenheit 451
had to spray the pyre with kerosene
or fuel oil
after initial ignition in addition
to 15 liters
of fire accelerant which was initially thrown on the pyre. It took 26:01 minutes for the Bööggs
head to explode which indicates a poor weather summer.
The Sechseläuten of 2008 took place on 14 April
. Officially, the head exploded only after 26 minutes and one second, promising a rather pervasive summer.
The fact that the head, instead of traditionally exploding, burnt down very quietly caused a lot of confusion. After approximately 20 minutes the head had burnt away completely, but leaving a large piece of the neck hanging from the stake. It was the explosion of that piece that ended this year's event.
Additional events of the holiday nowadays also include:
- A 'Kinderumzug' (children's parade) in historic and folkloristic costumes on the Sunday preceding the Sechseläuten.
- A very colorful afternoon parade of the 26 guilds in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizable mounted 'Reitergruppe', and horse drawn floats, to the 'Sechseläutenplatz' at the lakeshore where the Böögg is burnt.
- A ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire.
- Lunch and dinner banquets for the guildmembers and their guests.
- The 'Auszug', the nighttime visits of delegations of each of the 26 guilds to several other guilds in their guildhalls to exchange greetings, toasts, witicisms and gifts.