Sechseläuten – A Zurich Festival to Welcome the Summer

Zurich Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland

There are many traditions that herald the end of winter and the warming of the weather. On Groundhog Day, if a hibernating rodent awakens and sees its shadow, there will be six more months of winter. The religious holidays of Passover and Easter coincide with the first full moon of spring. Shipyard workers in Annapolis, Maryland burn their socks each year to symbolize the changing season.

One of the most unique spring celebrations takes place annually in Switzerland on the third Monday of April. Zurich, the country’s financial capital, plays host to Sechseläuten, hailing the lengthening of the days. Translating from the Swiss German, Sechseläuten (pronounced zecks-e-loyten) refers to the ringing of the six o’clock bells (sechs = six; läuten = ring) which signify the end of the work day during the spring and summer months. The festival dates back to the early 19th century when most workers were members of professional guilds. When the days shortened as the year went on, workers would be on the job from dawn until last light, but when spring arrived, the work day would end at six o’clock when the bells tolled.

The festival takes place this year on April 15th, and consists of a whole slew of activities over the preceding weekend including guild balls, featuring varying degrees of debauched revelry, and a children’s parade on Sunday with between 2,000 and 3,000 participants. On Monday evening, Sechseläuten concludes with the march of the guilds: a procession of Zurich’s finest dressed historical guild costumes (such as blacksmiths and bakers) accompanied by 500 horses and 30 marching bands.

After passing though the city, the march of the guilds concludes at Sechseläuten-Platz, a festival area on Lake Zurich. At 6:00 pm, the time at which the summer work day traditionally ends, a Böögg is burned. The Böögg is an effigy of a snowman representing winter that’s head is filled with explosives and then set atop a pyre. It is said that the longer it takes for the Böögg’s head to explode, the worse the summer weather will be. A Böögg that takes a long time to explode could foretell a rainy and dreary weather during the traditionally warm months.  Last year the Böögg exploded in 12 minutes and 7 seconds, foretelling a warm summer.

Gauging by the weather you’ve experienced so far this year, wherever you may be, what are your predictions for the coming summer?

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  1. [...] April 15th festival known as Sechseläuten (pronounced zecks-e-loyten) which takes place in Zurich, Switzerland heralds the end of winter and [...]

  2. [...] arrived in Zurich the weekend of the spring festival (Sechseläuten), not a good time to be a snowman (the [...]

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