Flag tossing or flag throwing in Switzerland involves swinging a flag of a prescribed size and shape back and forth on a short staff and then throwing it into the air and catching it by the staff as it comes down. In the Middle Ages, this skilful activity was a privilege of urban guilds. It was brought back to Switzerland by Swiss mercenaries who had been serving in foreign European armies.
Since 1914, flag tossing has been a discipline promoted by the Swiss Yodeling Association. Every three years at the Federal Yodeling Festival, flag throwers – in 1984 there were 675 members – take part in a competition.
There are around 50 different moves in flag tossing which are divided into five groups for the purpose of judging and which are described by such names as the Unterschwünge (low swings), Leib- und Körperschwünge (body swings), Tellerschwünge (plate swings), mittelhohe Schwünge (medium-high swings) and Hochschwünge (high swings). The competitor develops a three-minute programme using a combination of these basic moves.
Flag tossing calls for complete concentration and is often accompanied by the music of alphorns or Büchel, trumpet-shaped alphorns, to reduce the conversation of the audience to a minimum. But the flag throwing and alphorn music is not (yet) rhythmically co-ordinated which means that the musicians play any tune during a series of moves. Flag tossing is an integral part of any event whether a yodelling evening, a country festival or an Alpine wrestling competition. Flag tossers also demonstrate their skills at the Alpine festival in Bürglen in canton Uri and at the 1st of August National Day celebrations.
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