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Exploding snowman welcomes spring

Dressing up is part of the Sechseläuten fun.

(swiss-image.ch)

Zurich is gearing up to celebrate its most traditional annual festival - the "six o'clock bells" (Sechseläuten).

Switzerland's financial capital will come to a standstill on April 15 when hundreds of traditionally dressed guild members parade through the streets on horseback.

The blacksmiths carry hammers over their shoulders; the bakers hurl pastry treats into the crowd, and the butchers throw sausages.

Women and girls stand at the side of the road, giving bouquets of flowers to preferred guild members.

Upon reaching the large field named after the festival, the riders gallop round the "Böögg" - a large snowman-like figure placed on top of a stack of wood.

Igniting the "Böögg"

At precisely six o'clock, the Böögg is set alight. According to a local saying, the faster the head explodes, the better the summer will be.

Most participants are no longer active in the trades represented by the guilds, but the Sechseläuten tradition persists and dates back to the 1830s.

The festival got its name from an ancient law regulating the working hours of the guild members. Dependent on daylight, the craftsmen worked from dawn to dusk in winter, but when the days lengthened in spring, they had to rely on the six o'clock bells to know when to put down their tools.

The guilds held economic and political power in Zurich for about 450 years. Their rule came to an end with the arrival of the French under Napoleon in 1798.

The parade begins at 3pm. A children's parade takes place on April 14 and starts at 2:30pm.

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