Sechseläuten, also known in the local dialect as Sächsilüüte, is an annual spring festival which occurs in Zurich, Switzerland every year on the 3rd Monday of April. It is a holiday that is celebrated with parades, sausage BBQs and the burning of the Böög. The word Böög was probably used to refer to the bogeyman at some point in time, but now it merely stands for a snowman figure which is burned to drive out winter and to herald the beginning of spring.
History of Sechseläuten
Sechseläuten can be traced back to the 16th century. This is when the council of the city – which was composed of members from various guilds in Zurich – decided that work should stop an hour later during the summer months than during the winter months. During the winter months, workers and tradesmen would stop work at 5 pm due to the lack of light. However, during the summer months, they could work an hour later. At that time, a bell would ring at 6 pm letting the workers know the work day was over.
Eventually, it was decided that on the first Monday after the vernal equinox, a large bell in Grossmünster should be rung at 6 pm to announce the beginning of spring and new working hours. This is when the beginning of spring was determined for all residents of the city; a tradition that is still practiced today. It was called Sechseläuten – a term which means “the six o’clock bell ringing.” Over time, Sechseläuten would morph into the festival that it is today, with one minor change. In 1952, it was determined that it should be moved on the third Monday in April, or if that day is Easter Monday, then the Monday prior.
The Böögg can be traced back to the bogeyman. A character that was believed to harm children. Long before Sechseläuten was even practiced, children would burn a rag doll to protect themselves from the bogey man. Over time, it would become the character Böögg; a character that was masked and would frighten children during the carnival season. After Sechseläuten was established, the burning of the Böögg effigy would be incorporated into the ceremony. Today, the Böögg takes the form of a snowman that has explosives in its head.
Sechseläuten Customs & Traditions
Several different events take place during this holiday. Usually, on the Sunday before Sechseläuten, there is a children’s parade called the Kinderumzug. During this parade, the children wear historic costumes or costumes taken from old stories and folk tales. On the day of Sechseläuten, there is usually a parade of the guilds; the burning of the Böögg at exactly 6 pm; a ceremonious encircling of the Böögg on horseback and plenty of banquets to be attended by everyone.
How the Böögg burns is believed to forecast the weather for the upcoming summer. The faster the snowman’s head explodes, the hotter the summer will be and usually it’s pretty accurate. In 2012, it took about 12 minutes and 7 seconds for the head to explode; in 2014, it exploded in 7 minutes and 23 seconds; and in 2016, it exploded after 43 minutes and 34 seconds. The 2016 Böögg burn was the longest it ever took for the head to explode and set a new record.