Züri Sächsilüüte (Zürich Sechseläuten) -or- The Exploding Snowman Day off of Work

One holiday that we never participated in much in Zurich was Sechselauten, or in Swiss German, Sächsilüüte. It happens on the third Monday in April every year and in our minds was mostly just a lovely and welcome three-day weekend! But the actual reason for the day off of work is an elaborate celebration to usher in summer. There is a big parade in which the guilds march, which is rather hoity-toity. Then there is the burning of the Böögg. What is a Böögg, you ask? Why it's a giant snowman packed with explosives and perched atop a huge bonfire, of course! The apex of the day is when the Böögg is lit and everyone waits to see how long it takes to explode. The results are said to predict whether summer will be rainy or beautiful.

Sechseläuten translates literally as "six o'clock people" because the guilds made workers work until dark all year long, except in summer. During summer the law was that work had to end with the six o'clock bells, therefore, the celebratory factor came in because summer was the only time of year people had non-working daylight hours. Cheers to that!
We never once attended the burning of the Böögg, even though we lived so close to the Sechseläuterplatz just in front of the Opernhaus. In the photo above, you can see the street that we lived just a few meters off of down the tram line. From right there, you could catch a tram, ride 4 or 5 stops and be at Fröhlichstrasse, our tram stop. Or you could just walk 15 minutes or so. It was that close. Crazy!
But, as you can see, Sechseläuten is not baby-friendly. We took Coco to the parade a few times and she loved that, but the burning of a very tall bonfire topped off with a snowman filled with explosives? No, thanks. I think we always thought we could go when Coco was older, but I also can't really say I regret not going. Some holidays and customs you adopt and some you don't. Today the Böögg took an unprecedented 43 minutes until it was so thoroughly burnt that the head fell to the ground and finally exploded there. It looks like it's going to be the most miserable summer ever in Zurich. Shoot!

Have you lived abroad? Which holidays and customs did you adopt? Which ones didn't take? 

(Posters from Compostella+Perrot, Böögg aerial photo from Luzerner Zeitung, exploding Böögg photo from House of Switzerland)


  1. I loved Sechselaeuten! We attended the parade and watched Boogg burn several times. One time, we befriended an older Swiss man who pointed out Christoph Blocher of the SVP who happened to be marching in the parade.

    1. I'm thinking before kids it would have been awesome! We went to Nice for a quick getaway the first year we were there, and I was pregnant. Every year after that we had Coco. ;)

  2. I live in the Netherlands and we like King's Day (formerly Queen's Day), as we live in a family filled area so it is like an old-fashioned fair and we go home by early afternoon and don't find it too rowdy/noisy, but I know it varies widely what the vibe is like so we definitely lucked out locally.

    On the other hand, I am a total Grinch about NYE. I hate it. For those who don't know: instead of a city-organized firework show, people just let off fireworks in the streets by their houses the whole country over. By the boatload. The first couple years here (pre-kids for the first one) we enjoyed the novelty of it but now I just want to sleep (and have my kids sleep)! I also really resented feeling stuck at home all day on the 31st up until last year. Kids have been known to throw fireworks at people out walking (it happened to a friend who was out with her baby and dog!) and it just didn't feel safe. The constant noise from 10am-2am is very stressful to me, not fun. This past year they changed the rules (in Amsterdam at least) and fireworks couldnt be let off until 6pm. Of course a few impatient people couldn't wait so there were bangs throughout the day but it wasn't so bad and it felt OK to go out for a walk (though we saw kids throwing fireworks at each other! How is giving kids explosives a good idea?!).

    Experiencing another country's traditions and celebrations (even if they aren't something you enjoy) is one of the great things about living abroad. Even though I hate the noise on NYE, it will become one of stories told about our time living here and those kinds of memories can be a lot of fun. After all, who doesnt have the most fun telling holiday stories where things didn't go as planned, right?

    1. King's Day sounds just perfect. I am with you on NYE. I am so happy to be in Washington state where fireworks are absolutely outlawed. No fireworks for anyone, anywhere! In Zurich, we'd see the same thing on NYE or August 1st, the National Day. Children + explosives = bad. ;)

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