Knabenschiessen is a Swiss public holiday which centers around a festival in which the main component is a target shooting competition in Zürich, Switzerland. It is one of the oldest holidays in Switzerland and has been observed as a festival all the way back to the 19th century. This holiday falls on the second weekend in September on an annual basis.
History of Knabenschiessen
Officially, the festival of Knabenschiessen began in 1889 but the practice of having a teen shooting competition goes all the way back to the 17th century. During this time, all boys between the ages of 13 and 17 were required to practice their shooting skills during the summer holiday. This tradition would conclude with an examination of the boy’s shooting skills in September. Eventually, this tradition would morph into the festival of Knabenschiessen in 1889. That is when the holiday was organized from a tradition into a full blown holiday. This was done as a way to advertise the benefits of joining the Swiss Army to the boys who competed in the competition and also for voluntary cadet training. From the 1920s until the present, this event has been hosted by the Riflemen’s Association of Zürich.
Unfortunately, boys were the only ones who were allowed to compete in the shooting competition of Knabenschiessen. For the next 102 years, it would remain that way. However, that changed in 1991 when girls started to be allowed into the competition. This was partly due to the changing attitudes of the time, but it was also done due to a drop in participation as well. In 1997, the first female won the competition that year. This female was Rachel Goldschmid and she was 15 years old at the time.
Knabenschiessen Customs & Traditions
Today, participants who are 13 to 17 years of age, and who reside in Zürich or are enrolled in a school in the city, can enter the competition. Participants enter the competition at Albisgütli, which is in the south-western portion of Zürich and is surrounded by a large fair. During this shooting competition, the participants will use a SIG SG 550 Swiss Army rifle to shoot at targets. The contestant with the best score is named “Schützenkönig”, which roughly translates into “marksmen king.” About 33% of those who participate will get prizes – which are donated by private firms and prominent individuals in the city. Whether a person gets a prize or not is entirely up to the amount of points they receive.
This shooting competition is at the center of a large fair – which is equivalent in size to some of the larger fairs that are held in the United States or the United Kingdom. At this fair are amusement rides and food booths of every sort. A variety of different Swiss foods, and more recently street foods, are sold at the food booths of this festival – a festival which lasts 3 days. Some of the foods which are served include pulled pork burgers, Swiss raclette, strudel & cheesecake, and Afghan pasties.