Knabenschiessen is a Swiss public holiday centered around a festival featuring a target shooting competition in Zurich, Switzerland. It is one of the oldest holidays in Switzerland, observed as a festival since the 19th century. This holiday occurs on the second weekend of September annually.
History of Knabenschiessen
The festival of Knabenschiessen officially began in 1889, but the practice of holding a teen shooting competition dates back to the 17th century. At that time, all boys aged 13 to 17 were required to practice their shooting skills during the summer holiday. This tradition culminated with an examination of the boys’ shooting abilities in September. Eventually, this tradition evolved into the festival of Knabenschiessen in 1889, when the holiday was organized from a tradition into a fully-fledged holiday. It was designed to promote the benefits of joining the Swiss Army to the boys competing in the competition and also for voluntary cadet training. Since the 1920s, the event has been hosted by the Riflemen’s Association of Zurich.
For 102 years, only boys were allowed to compete in the Knabenschiessen shooting competition. However, this changed in 1991 when girls were permitted to participate. This change was partly due to the evolving attitudes of the time and a decline in participation. In 1997, the first female winner of the competition was Rachel Goldschmid, who was 15 years old at the time.
Knabenschiessen Customs & Traditions
Today, participants aged 13 to 17 who reside in Zurich or are enrolled in a school in the city can enter the competition. The competition takes place at Albisgütli, in the southwestern part of Zurich, surrounded by a large fair. During the competition, participants use a SIG SG 550 Swiss Army rifle to shoot at targets. The contestant with the highest score is named “Schützenkönig,” which translates to “marksmen king.” Approximately 33% of participants receive prizes donated by private firms and prominent individuals in the city. Whether a person receives a prize depends entirely on the number of points they score.
The shooting competition is at the heart of a large fair, comparable in size to some of the larger fairs held in the United States or the United Kingdom. The fair features amusement rides and food booths of every kind. A variety of Swiss foods, and more recently street foods, are sold at the festival’s food booths, which lasts three days. Some of the foods served include pulled pork burgers, Swiss raclette, strudel & cheesecake, and Afghan pasties.