In Switzerland, an exploding snowman helps predict spring The Swiss have a tradition for predicting spring: the Böögg. (Zürich Tourism/Agi Simoes/Adrian Seitz)
In Switzerland, an exploding snowman helps predict spring
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The United States isn’t the only country with an odd tradition for predicting the weather. That tradition is the ground hog. His name is Punxsutawney Phil. It’s different in Zürich, Switzerland. The locals there turn to the Böögg. It is an 11-foot-tall snowman. It is stuffed with straw. It is stuffed with cotton. And it is stuffed with dynamite. But it is not like Punxsutawney Phil. It does not look for its shadow. People gather in the town square. They cheer when the Böögg is engulfed in flames. The belief is that the sooner the Böögg’s head explodes, the closer the townspeople are to spring.

The zany tradition is part of Sechseläuten. It is an annual spring festival. It dates back to the 16th century. It translates to “the six-o-clock ringing of the bells.” Craftsmen would work in their guilds. They’d work until the sun set. That was around 5 p.m. That was during winter. Things changed during summer. There were more daylight hours. The workday ended at 6 p.m. The city council would announce the first day of spring. They would ring the largest church bells. They were in the town square. 

The burning of the Böögg was introduced in 1902. Eventually the two events merged. It became one giant festival. It includes a parade of the craft guilds. They are a system founded in the 14th century. It divided craftsmen into group by specialty. This included blacksmithing. It also included baking. This year’s event will be April 8. It ends with the burning of the Böögg.

“[The bonfire] is a symbol of the burning of winter.” That's according to Victor Rosser. He is the head of communications. He works for the Central Committee of the Guilds of Zurich. It is the organization that helps plan the festival. 

“The Böögg didn’t start out as a snowman. It was a disguised puppet. In German, Böögg roughly translates to ‘bogeyman.’ It is a word you use to describe wearing a disguise. It would be like you would when going to a carnival. But over the years the Böögg changed into a snowman. It symbolizes the banishment of Old Man Winter.”

People say goodbye to winter’s chill. Thousands of locals and visitors flock to Sechseläutenplatz. It is the town square. They come to see the explosive spectacle. Some people even place bets. They bet on how long it will take for the stuffed snowman's head to explode.

In 2015 it took a sluggish 20 minutes and 39 seconds for the blaze to creep up the 32-foot pile of wood and reach the snowman. It contained approximately 140 sticks of dynamite. The shortest time was in 2003. That was when the explosion occurred in a record-breaking 5 minutes and 42 seconds. This meant spring was right around the corner. The massive bonfire will begin to die down. Then locals bring sausages and other meats to barbecue. This is called the “after-hour of the Böögg.”

One of the festival's weirder moments took place in 2006. That’s when a group of “leftwing militants” stole the Böögg. They stole it out of the builder’s garage. They replaced it with a chocolate Easter bunny. And a hammer and sickle. Heinz Wahrenberger is a bookbinder. He assembled the Böögg for 50 years. After the theft he came up with a plan B. He outsmarted any would-be thieves. He created two backup Bööggs. Today, one sits on display. It is at the local bank. It is a prelude to the festival.

“Thankfully, the Böögg wasn’t loaded with fireworks when it was stolen,” Rosser says.

The Sechseläuten that is perhaps best remembered by locals was the year that the Böögg’s head fell off. It happened while it was engulfed in flames. A group of people did’t miss a beat. The people were at the front of the crowd. They picked it up. They threw it back into the bonfire. That was before it exploded. It was a spectacular prelude to spring.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What surprised you most about this tradition? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (26)
  • daltone-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:11 a.m.

    That they have one of the Statues outside of a bank. usually they wouldnt have something like that. even though it keeps the "theives" aways

  • madysonw-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:12 a.m.

    The burning of the snowman represents the burning of winter.

  • reaganw-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:13 a.m.

    One thing that surprised me most about this tradition is that they celebrate all day with cook outs and barbecues. When in America we only put a groundhog out of its cage one morning and then everyone goes on with there day.

  • coryd-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    that is cool that we have the ground hog and they have a exploding snowman i would want to have that then the groundhog.

  • loganw-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    The thing that surprised me the most was that the people thought of the idea to burn a snowman. That is just weird to me because why burn it? Why not do something more simple like just seeing a shadow.

  • johnh-hol1
    3/21/2019 - 09:16 a.m.

    The thing that surprised me the most was the fact they blow something up to decide when spring is.

  • thomasb-hol1
    3/21/2019 - 09:16 a.m.

    The thing that surprised me the most was that when the head blows off that is when Spring starts.

  • kylag-hol
    3/21/2019 - 09:16 a.m.

    The thing that surprised me the most about this tradition was that they light a snowman on fire. They also filled it with dynamite! This is surprising to me because I've never heard of a tradition like this.

  • calebh-hol1
    3/21/2019 - 09:18 a.m.

    I think this tradition is really weird looking at it from my perspective, but from the people in Zurich it is probably normal. It would also be a good way to get the whole community to come together for a night.

  • kassandrac-hol1
    3/21/2019 - 09:18 a.m.

    It's a bit surprising to me that they watch a snowman's head explode. That's not something you'd hear every day.

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