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 a ground hog named Punxsutawney Phil. But in Zürich, Switzerland, the locals turn to the Böögg. It is an 11-foot-tall snowman. It is stuffed with straw and cotton. It is also stuffed with dynamite. But it is not like Punxsutawney Phil. It does not look for its shadow. Instead, folks gather in the town square to 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 that dates back to the 16th century. It translates to “the six-o-clock ringing of the bells.” Long ago, craftsmen would work in their guilds. They’d work until the sun set around 5 p.m. That was during winter. Things changed during summer, though. With more daylight hours, the workday ended at 6 p.m.. To announce the first day of spring, the city council would ring the largest church bells. They were in the town square. 

By 1902, the burning of the Böögg was introduced. Eventually the two events merged into 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 and 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 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.”

To say goodbye to winter’s chill, thousands of locals and visitors flock to Sechseläutenplatz. It is the town square. They gather to see the explosive spectacle. Some people even place bets 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, when the explosion occurred in a record-breaking 5 minutes and 42 seconds. That meant spring was right around the corner. Once the massive bonfire begins to die down, 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, 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 who assembled the Böögg for 50 years. He had to come up with a plan B. He outsmarted any would-be thieves by creating two backup Bööggs. Today, one sits on display 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.

Stolen snowmen aside, 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. Not missing a beat, a group of people at the front of the crowd picked it up. They threw it back into the bonfire before it exploded. It was a spectacular prelude to spring.

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What surprised you most about this tradition? Why?
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COMMENTS (31)
  • Weston-E2
    3/14/2019 - 04:03 p.m.

    wow a exploding snow man to predict weather like grown hog day
    and this documentary is really funny.

  • Will-E2
    3/15/2019 - 11:00 a.m.

    THIS IS CRAZY.
    In Switzerland they burn a snowman to say how far away spring is. I looked up a video it is really funny. The link is https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/society/boeoeggy-wonderland_exploding-snowman-to-predict-swiss-summer/42097214. After the snowman burns It goes boom boom. That's the end of that snowman.

  • Jenaeb-orv
    3/15/2019 - 11:55 a.m.

    that they would blow up a snowman head to see if spring is coming soon or not but i mean its pretty interesting i feel like i would be more interested to this than the way we do it because i mean the way we do it is pretty stupid plus i never even know when this groundhog thing happens to be honest

  • Demariusp-orv
    3/15/2019 - 02:11 p.m.

    It's interesting how a lot of countries have different traditions about the same things. Especially in this country. It does make sense though. An exploding snowman marks the end of winter.

  • erikl-orv
    3/15/2019 - 04:58 p.m.

    i think its awsome that they get to blow stuff up for spring. now im not suggesting we stuff a ground hog with dynamite but come on. either way spring is still around the cornner.

  • Sarah-E2
    3/18/2019 - 10:31 a.m.

    This is crazy!
    An exploding snowman predicts spring. Who would think that a snowman could predict spring. The way it works is that the longer it takes for the snowman's head to explode the longer it is until spring. I think that this is for the Swiss the equivalent to our groundhog. I think that this is just great to watch the video. This is so cool!

  • BenC-E2
    3/18/2019 - 11:06 a.m.

    that is hilarious that they blowup a snow man to predict spring. i can not imagine watching that I hope i can live there. and the name boogg that is the most funny thing i have ever heard.

  • karlised-orv
    3/18/2019 - 11:32 a.m.

    This whole hedgehog thing drives me nuts. That's what this article reminds me of. If the hedgehog sees his shadow there will be more weeks of winter. I wonder how that myth even started.

  • ethanm-orv
    3/18/2019 - 11:43 a.m.

    The name of the snow man remind me of something me and Joey did last school year. I want to watch a snow man explode. That sounds like a fun festival.

  • Jack-E2
    3/18/2019 - 12:28 p.m.

    whoa this is definitely a different approach then the ground hog it is so cool that they put explosives in a snowman i really liked this article because i like explosions.

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