The traditional Zurich weather forecaster, an exploding stuffed snowman perched atop a blazing pyre, failed to set the traditional holiday crowds alight on Monday. The Böögg took a monotonous 20 minutes and 31 seconds for its head to explode – thus signaling a drab Swiss summer.
The Sechseläuten (or ‘Six Bells’) spring parade each year signals the burning of the Böögg – an effigy signifying the long winter months recently endured. Legend has it that the quicker the Böögg’s explosives-packed head takes to go off with a bang, the warmer and sunnier the summer will be.
Under drizzling grey skies on Monday, the process took a tediously long time. In fact, on only four occasions in the last decade has the Böögg taken longer to lose its head.
Last year’s result was altogether more satisfactory, both in terms of the speed at which the snowman exploded and the accuracy of its forecast. Last summer saw lots of sunshine and hot temperatures, just as the Böögg said it would, when its head detonated in under ten minutes.
This year, Zurich’s city trade guilds, resplendent as ever in traditional costumes and riding horses, were joined by guests from Basel and government minister Guy Parmelin and Ignazio Cassis.
The Böögg has been at the heart of the Sechseläuten festival since the beginning of the 20th century. An annual highlight for the people of Zurich, the celebrations generally begin on the second or third Sunday in April with a colourful children’s procession.
Women present men with spring flowers to signal the beginning of the new season and men wear traditional clothes signifying their membership in a particular guild. These guilds go back hundreds of years; particularly well-known ones include the winemakers, bakers, carpenters and gold- and other metal smiths. Monday’s guild procession features 3,500 people, 350 riders, 50 horse-drawn wagons and some 30 brass bands. Some are dressed as if marching into battle, wearing armour and carrying spears.
Nowadays, most guild members are no longer connected to the traditional professions, but are well-known city doctors, lawyers, politicians or professors. Only men are allowed to join, and they have to be very well-connected and respected in the city to be considered for guild membership. Another way in is if one’s father already belongs to a guild.
The procession is followed by an exuberant evening celebration that traditionally included drinking so much alcohol that doctors generally would not perform operations on the day after, and lawyers wouldn’t enter the courtrooms.