Cutting the goose loose

Though not quite scary enough to give you goose bumps, a custom peculiar to a little town near Lucerne is haunting in its own way. Every November 11th – on St Martin’s Day – the people of Sursee celebrate by beheading two dead geese. (Susan Misicka,

This content was published on December 22, 2015 - 11:00

On a stage in front of the town hall, a goose is hung from a wire. Lots are drawn among those interested in taking a swing at the bird using an antique cavalry sabre. Clad in a red cloak, a blindfold and a golden mask shaped like the sun, they try their luck one by one.

A glass of wine and a disorienting twirl make the game more challenging for each player. They stumble onto the stage and grope for the goose as drums beat and the crowd cheers. The feathers fly, but hitting the goose’s neck with the required precision and force proves difficult – especially with such a blunt sword.

This year’s event took place on an unseasonably warm day. Thousands gathered to take a gander at the spectacle, which dates back to the 1800s, if not earlier. About 100 people – including 11 women – signed up for the chance to win one of the two geese.

It took 13 men to decapitate the first goose. The winner, 31-year-old Christian Fries of Triengen, had already won three times before, and says he’ll try his luck again next year.

The second goose got cut loose after just four tries. Inspired by the nice weather, it was the first time that 49-year-old Franz Amrein of Willisau had signed up for the contest.

Between rounds, children get a piece of cheese in exchange for making silly faces, and the braver ones can climb a pole to fetch a present from a tree. After both geese are gone, there’s also a potato sack race where children bite at sausages suspended from the wire.

St Martin’s Day is celebrated with a harvest feast in many countries – often with roast goose on the menu. But beheading a dead goose seems unique to Sursee in Switzerland.

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