Out & About in Switzerland: Beheading the goose

The feathers fly as last year's winner beheads the goose Keystone

The ritual in the town of Sursee in canton Lucerne has to rate as one of the most bizarre traditions in Switzerland. On November 11, the locals gather in the centre of town to take turns trying to "Behead the Goose".

This content was published on November 3, 2000 - 11:53

The goose is killed before it's brought to a wooden stage in front of the town hall, the "goose gallows", and strung up by a wire. But to many of the thousands of curious onlookers, the whole affair still seems very barbaric.

It all begins in mid-afternoon when dozens of eager participants draw lots to decide on their place in the queue. To the accompaniment of drums, each person in turn is blindfolded and dons a customary red robe and sun mask before mounting the stage and handed a blunt sabre.

Once on the gallows, the person is spun around three times so that his or her bearings are lost. Then, aided only by helpful shouts from the crowd, he or she has to find the goose, before taking one permitted swing to try to separate the bird's head from its body.

To loud cheers and applause, the goose is usually brought down within the first 10 attempts.

A second bird is strung up for one more go at the goose.

The origins of the event are unclear but it's believed to have been part of a medieval ceremony that accompanied the handing over of a payment in kind to the landlord, which always took place on November 11.

Children's games also figure prominently in the event. They compete against each other in pole climbing, sack races and making ugly faces.

The festival ends, as to be expected, with a meal of cooked goose.


Out & About in Switzerland is updated regularly to keep you informed of upcoming events, which may provide a different insight into the country and its people.

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