Today is possibly the time of year when I most wish I were back in my hometown of Zürich. Today is Sächsilüüte. It is celebrated every year on the third Monday of April. To foreigners it might seem weird that a bunch of Swiss dress up as knights to ride around a bonfire with a fake snowman on top but to me it is a big part of my childhood memories and, of course, Zürich's tradition.
The roots of the festival go back to medieval times when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls across the city. City ordinances strictly regulated the length of the working day in that era. During the winter semester the workday in all workshops lasted as long as there was daylight, but during the summer semester the law proclaimed that work must cease when the church bells tolled at six o'clock. Sächsilüüte is a Swiss German word that literally translates into "The six o'clock ringing of the bells". Changing to summer working hours traditionally was a joyous occasion because it marked the beginning of the season where people had some non-working daylight hours.
Following a very colourful afternoon parade of the 26 Zünft (guilds) in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizeable mounted knights, and horse drawn floats, the climax of the celebration is the burning of winter in effigy, in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman prepared with explosives.
The custom of burning the Böögg predates the Sechsilüüte. Popular tradition has it that the time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg`s head is indicative of the coming summer: a quick explosion promises a warm, sunny summer, a drawn-out burning a cold and rainy one.
So, turn on the TV (SFR1) today at 6pm sharp and watch the Böögg burn. Your kids will love it.