Strong winds sink burning snowman in Zurich, disappointing Swiss | ET REALITY


Imagine if Punxsutawney Phil just didn’t show up one year. How would people know how long winter would last?

Zurich residents found themselves in a similar state of limbo this week.

On Monday, strong winds disrupted the city’s annual spring festival, a Swiss version of Groundhog Day that includes a parade and the ceremonial burning of a fake snowman (an effigy of winter) whose head is filled with fireworks. .

The parades went off without a hitch. But when it came time for the festival’s grand finale, the burning and explosion of the snowman atop a pyre, strong winds picked up and the ceremony was canceled for safety reasons.

The Sechseläuten festival takes place on the third Monday in April. Its name roughly translates to “the ringing of the bells at six o’clock.” The snowman is called Böögg, a term that probably has its roots in the English word boogeyman.

This is how the day usually goes: at 3 pm sharp, around 3,500 members of Zurich’s ancient guilds (associations of artisans or merchants dating back to the Middle Ages) embark on a parade. They wear traditional attire and accept flowers from spectators. The parade also includes floats and hundreds of people on horseback.

Then, at 6pm sharp (Swiss time is no joke), the church bell rings and the pyre under the snowman is lit. As the fire advances towards the Böögg, the guild members ride around the burning effigy.

Finally, the snowman’s head explodes.

The day ends with a public barbecue, where people cook sausages over the bonfire.

The faster the snowman burns, legend says, the better the summer will be. (Between five and 12 minutes is considered good. Anything over 15 minutes is bad.)

So when the Böögg did not burn on Monday, some Zurich residents suffered a brief period of disappointment, although nothing Swiss.

“It’s a kind of drama that unfolds in different stages,” said Thomas Meier, who grew up in Zurich and has ridden around the burning effigy for the past 20 years. He noted that the festival lasts two days, starting with a children’s parade on Sunday and culminating with the burning of the Böögg. This year, Meier said, “the drama is missing its last part.”

“It’s taking the soul out of the event,” he said. “In fact, it leaves a strange feeling.”

When it was announced at the last minute Monday afternoon that the burning would not take place, “there was some grumbling among the crowd,” said Lauren Tucci, an American who moved to Zurich from California about three years ago. But most people quickly returned to pragmatic mode and quickly headed to the train station. “To be completely honest, I didn’t hear many complaints,” she said.

People quickly flooded the internet with memes and jokes. “Summer is cancelled, I understand correctly, right?” one person asked. “Gone With the Wind,” a journalist joked below an image of a pristine Böögg.

This is not the first mishap involving the Sechseläuten snowman. There have been years when the snowman fell off the pyre before the fire reached his head. In 2006, a group of people “kidnapped” the Böögg. The celebrations continued with a replacement snowman. In 2020, in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration was canceled entirely.

But Monday’s disruption was still notable. For the first time in 100 years, “it was not possible to burn the snowman due to strong gusts of wind,” said Victor Rosser, spokesman for the committee organizing the event. He added that it would be too dangerous to start a fire in a plaza among tens of thousands of spectators.

The plan now is to burn the Böögg in the canton of Appenzell Outer Rhodes, about an hour from Zurich, according to Zurich Tourismwho did not specify when the burning would occur.

The Sechseläuten tradition dates back to the 16th century, according to the Zurich Tourist Office. At that time, the City Council was made up of members of the Zurich guilds. The council decided that on the first Monday after the spring equinox, at exactly 6:00 p.m., the Grossmünster church bell would ring to signal the beginning of spring.

On Tuesday, workers dismantled the snowman, which is still in perfect condition. It was an unusual sight for the inhabitants of Zurich.

Of course, Böögg’s weather predictions are more symbolic than scientific. But Mr. Meier, the rider who participated in Monday’s party, said that for summer to begin the Böögg must burn.

“Winter is still here,” he said. “It’s not gone.”

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