The name Sechseläuten comes from the practice, believed to have originated in the thirteenth century, of workers in Zurich agreeing that from the end of winter they would work until the bells chimed 6 o'clock. During the winter, when the days were short, they worked from dawn to dusk. The festivities originated in the year 1818, when one of the guilds held a parade. By 1820, as other guilds joined in, they began to coordinated the parade, and all the guilds took part together for the first time in 1839.

Sechselaeuten is the only public guild activity, and is always held on the third Monday in April unless it clashes with Easter Monday, in which case it is postponed one week. On the preceding Sunday, there is a parade of children wearing traditional historical or folk costumes. Monday includes the costumed procession of all guilds and guests, after which the Böögg is burned at precisely 18.00 (6 p.m.). The Boogg is a cotton wool snowman filled with firecrackers, which serves as a symbol of the passing winter. It is 3.4 meters (11 ft.) high, weighs about 80 kg. (176 lbs.) and stands atop a huge (12-13m) wooden pyre. Once the bells of the Church of St. Peter have chimed six, the pyre is ignited. When the head of the Boogg explodes, winter is considered to be officially ended. The shorter the time from ignition to explosion, the hotter and longer the summer should be, it is said. The longest recorded time is 40 minutes, and I think the shortest was somewhere around 11 minutes.

photo courtesy of
Michael von Orelli
Zunft zur Saffran

The Boogg usually looks about the same from year to year, and I read somewhere that the same guy has been making them for 35+ years. He usually has the same elements (i.e., "corncob pipe, button nose and two eyes made out of coal" as well as the doofy cap and a broom) but is customized, like my favorite here, from the year 2000. During that year's event, the guest canton to Zurich's Sechseläuten was the canton of Uri, home of Wilhelm (not William!) Tell. I liked this Boogg so much, I made it into a Tarot card: Page of Wands.


photo courtesy of
Zunft zur Waag

This tradition is very unique, and worth seeing at least once in your life. You should consider checking out hotels in Zurich and booking yourself a vacation there. The area is rich in culture and history, and sits at the center of some of the world's most beautiful scenery.







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