Sächsilüüte, Beltane….spring traditions

A long procession of guilds, an exploding snowman and the prediction how the summer is going to be….that’s what happened in Zürich yesterday.

Many cultures have their own ways of saying goodbye to winter and welcoming summer. While we were in Edinburgh, we went to celebrate Beltane – the original Gaelic festival marking the beginning of summer was reintroduced in 1988 and celebrated ever since at night with an impressive procession and fire show on Carlton Hill. It is quite an archaic event, the actors are wild characters, figures dressed in black coats holding torches, white flower maidens, the May Queen, red and blue half-naked creatures with drums and fire (maybe the Scots have indeed a propensity for airy dresses).

Red Men at Beltane Fire Festival (source: wikipedia)

Red Men at Beltane Fire Festival (source: wikipedia)

In Zurich, the beginning of summer is performed in a slightly more demure way. It is marked by three things: the procession of the guilds who influenced Zürich’s politics for centuries. The bonfire to end the cold season and mark the beginning of summer. And the switch of the knocking-off-time – while the workday was over at 5pm during the winter, the workday during the summertime ends with the stroke of the 6pm clock. Hence the name “Sächsilüüte” – “six o’clock stroke”…

As a special treat, every year a prediction is made: the head of the huge snowman (called Böögg) is filled with firecrackers. And the time that the head needs to explode gives a clue about when the summer will come and how good it is going to be. Last year, for instance, it took over half an hour. The summer was still really hot though. As this year’s Böögg only took 7 minutes and 23 seconds to explode, I wonder this summer is going to be like (maybe we should invest in a ventilator?)


Böögg (source: telezueri.ch)

According to Wikipedia, every now and then something unforeseen happens at Sächsilüüte. In 1921, the Böögg was lightened too early by a small boy (apparently the communists put him up to it!). In 2006, the Böögg was stolen (and found again. And stolen again). And in 1944, it fell into the lake. And if you want to avoid the crowds and celebrate Sächsilüüte at home, you can now buy a handy pocket böögg!

And while the Beltane festival ends in the middle of the night with heavy whisky consumption and whatever effects alcohol, drums, half-naked creatures and darkness may have on you, the people in Zürich use the hot coals from the snowman for a big barbecue (“Volkswurstbraten“).

About erdhummel

Familial entropy - that's an insight into our current life which has been fundamentally changed last summer when our daughter was born. Having studied in Cottbus, Germany, and worked/studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, we momentarily live in a small town in Switzerland where Karsten is trying to save the environment and Freddie is trying to save our sanity. Since there is not much time for elaborate, long emails while doing that, we thought a blog might be a good option to smuggle ourselves into the lifes of our friends.
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