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Zurich’s guilds ring the bells of spring

Guild members play 'ring around the Böögg' every April Keystone Archive

Every April Zurich celebrates the “Six o’clock bells” (Sechseläuten) - the city’s most traditional festival. The celebrations reach their climax when the head of an over-sized snowman explodes, welcoming the arrival of spring.

The business capital of Switzerland comes to a standstill on each occasion 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. Most members are no longer active in the trades represented by the guilds – which once held great political power – but the tradition persists.

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

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.

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.

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.

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