Sweet, Let’s Burn Some Stuff – Sechseläuten

We joke about burning a couch when something good happens (like Michigan State winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament).   It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Apparently Zurich, Switzerland feels the same way.  They celebrate Sechseläuten.  To celebrate the arrival of spring in Switzerland, they burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter).

Sorry Mr. Snowman, but let’s face it temperatures have been getting warmer and you weren’t long for this world anyway. – From 20 Minutes

Sechseläuten is kind of like Groundhog’s Day. The time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg`s head predicts the summer weather.  A quick explosion means a warm, sunny summer. A long, drawn-out burning means a cold and rainy one.  Even though Switzerland is known as a winter wonderland and ski mecca, locals (including us) hope for its quick end.  Earlier this week, Zurich burned the Böögg.

Not so frosty now are you Frosty? – From 20 Minutes

In medieval times, when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls because during the summer work was required to stop when the church bells tolled at six. The rest of the year, they worked until dark. Who doesn’t celebrate some non-working daylight hours?

From 20 Minutes

Itinerary for Sechseläuten:

  • Sunday before Sechseläuten – children’s parade in historic and folkloristic costumes
  • Afternoon of Sechseläuten – parade of the 26 guilds (over 7,000) in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizable mounted ‘Reitergruppe’, and horse-drawn floats
  • Post-parade – ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire
  • 6:00 p.m. – burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter)
  • Post-Burning – dinner banquets for the guildmembers (and their lucky guests)
  • Night – delegations visit other guilds in their guildhalls to exchange greetings, toasts, witticisms and gifts

The summer should be hot, if one believes the time the Booge of Sechseläuten took before exploding on the funeral pile in Zurich: 12 minutes and 7 seconds. The myth is that the faster the head of the snowman explodes, the hotter this summer will be. The average of the last ten years was around 14 minutes. In 2008, 26 minutes was necessary. – From 20 Minutes

What’s a holiday without a family spat?

The holiday is often within a week of May Day, a working class holiday.  Sechseläuten seems to be a rather posh, upper class affair. The proximity of these has led to various, ahem, issues.  In 2006, the Böögg was kidnapped.  Now, they keep spares… just in case.

Easter In Sweden

Easter celebrations in secular Sweden are comparable to Christmas for the secular American.  While some attend church on Easter Sunday, for a majority of Swedes many of the celebrations have little to do with Christian beliefs.  Easter is a big deal in Sweden and the entire country partakes in their holiday traditions.   We were in Sweden weeks before Easter, but signs of it were already everywhere.   The Swedes seemed to look forward to Easter as a sign of spring.

I asked a nice lady at the National Museum gift shop about branches with colored feathers attached to them.  In the 12 hours I’d spent in Sweden, I’d seen them countless times.  She explained to me that Easter in Sweden is kind of like Halloween in the US.  In Sweden, children dress up as witches, paint their faces, carry brooms and knock on their neighbor’s doors for treats.

The schedule is a bit different than in the US.  Many of the traditions predate Christianity and were incorporated into Easter celebrations over the years:

  • Palmsöndag (Palm Sunday) Instead of picking up palm leaves or other branches from the church, Swedes pick up pussy willows.  They are also used as an Easter decoration.
  • Svarta måndag (black Monday) is when chimneys were traditionally swept.
  • The Thursday before Easter, Skärtorsdag (Holy Thursday), Swedish children dress up as påskkärringar (witches) and go trick-or-treating…well, sort of.   Skärtorsdagen is the day of the Last Supper.  Swedes considered it a dangerous day to be out, because the old spirits were let loose.  The night was a time for the devil, who wanted you to sign a contract exchanging for riches for your soul.  Hence the witches…

  • Good Friday is more appropriately named in Swedish Långfredag – Long Friday.  No fun may be had on this day (to mourn of the crucifixion of Christ).  In fact, public entertainment was prohibited until 1969.   The fun recommences on Saturday morning.
  • Saturday night is Påskafton (the Christmas eve of Easter), a day for feasting and eating.  Families sit down to dinners of eggs and lamb, representing the fertility of the spring and the rebirth of the year after the long winter.   They also have special crackers and exchange cards.  Traditionally children make drawings of witches, chickens and eggs accompanied by a few words.  In the late afternoon, bonfires are lit in many areas to scare off the evil influences.
  • During Easter week in Sweden, it is taboo to get married or baptize a child.

By the way, Swedes also have beautifully decorated Easter eggs, both decorative and edible.

A Sunday Drive

With the exception of a visit to Evian, we’d never spent much time on the French side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  Everyone had told us that there wasn’t much there.  Last Sunday, we took a drive up that side of the lake.  It’s true, there aren’t any really large towns.  There were a few places we would like to visit again.
carte tour du lac leman a velo seminaire seminaires evian les bains
We started out in Hermance, the last town on the Swiss side of the border.  It is a cute, old town.  On a Sunday morning, it was very quiet.  They have a beach and a playground that could be very child-friendly in the summer.
Next, we went to Yvoire.  It was our favorite stop.  We walked around it’s historic walled town checked out the lakefront.  We will probably take a ferry there for a late afternoon meal, stroll around the town and take a boat back around sunset.
Yvoire was surprisingly busy.  It’s very steep and built into the hillside.  As a result, it’s a bit more difficult to navigate.  The beaches on the east side of town are rocky.  We stopped and picked up tons of beach glass.
Evian can be quickly seen in an hour or two.  We continued all the way to the Swiss border at Saint Gingolph.  During the drive, it became clear why the French side of the lake is so sparsely populated in comparison to the Swiss side.  It is bordered by steep mountains.  There is very little land that is suitable for building.
We need to clean our windshield, but you get the idea.
We joked that Switzerland (which needs as much farmland as it can get its hands on to feed its citizens) took all the farmable, buildable land around the lake and said to France “you can keep the mountains, we have enough of those.”
 

Driving in Switzerland

We now have our permanent car (isn’t she a beauty) here.  When I am driving in Switzerland, I’m not worried about getting in an accident or even parking in a teeny tiny space.  I’m worried about following all of the rules. Here are some:
  • Seat belts are compulsory for all occupants (expected).
Wearing his seatbelt
  • Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat without an appropriate child restraint (also expected).
  • No right turn on red.  I can deal with this.
  • Pedestrians always have the right-of-way in pedestrian crosswalks.  I can deal with this.  Unfortunately, the drivers with French plates who consistently try to run me over have difficulty doing so.
  • Hazard lights may only be used to warn of danger.   This is a bit different from driving in the US, where I use them when stopped in front of someone’s house.
  • No honking is allowed after dark.  How else am I supposed to show my road rage? This merits a definitely different.
  • Noise from car or occupants that could disturb people is prohibited.   Does this mean I can’t blast my bass?
  • The minimum driving age is 18.  FYI, the drinking age for wine and beer is 16.
  • Mobile phones may only be used with a hands-free system (similar to the US).
  • Headlights must be used in tunnels.   Logical, but this is not really an issue in Michigan.  On Sunday, I think we went through at least 8 tunnels on our way to Geneva.  By the way, not only do you have to use your headlights in tunnels, the speed limit drops and they use radar to fine you if you are following too closely.  You’ll get a nice little note from the Swiss government in the mail about a week later.
  • Headlights should be on and dipped during daylight hours, especially on major routes.  We can do this.
  • Each car must carry a red warning triangle (reflective vests are not obligatory).  Thank goodness our rental came with it, because I’m not sure where to buy a red warning triangle.  Hmmm… I’d better check to make sure our new car has one.
  • Snow chains are required in some winter conditions.    Who doesn’t love this? Okay, he doesn’t love this. To quote him, “what happened to all season tires?” Mom said, “maybe they don’t have them over here.”  He said, “Michelin? Pirelli?”  We have ours and have paid to store our normal tires for the winter.  You can breathe easy, we are in compliance.
  • It is illegal to drive if the windshield is partly or completely obscured by frost; it is illegal to let the car idle to aid clearing the windshield.   Curses, that was my go to move. I am ashamed to say that I would sit in the front seat drinking coffee and let my car warming up do the work for me. I try to be pretty green, but that was one instance where I didn’t worry about my greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Helmets are compulsory for driver and passenger on all scooters, motorbikes, quad bikes and trikes.  The motorcycles and scooters are so aggressive here and we have already seen several accidents. I can see why they have this rule.
  • Speed limits are enforced with cameras.  If you do not obey this one, you will receive an appropriately Swiss (expensive) speeding ticket in the mail.  The amount is determined by taking a percentage of your income?!?  Expect more on this in future posts.
  • Radar detectors are illegal. Okay.  The dreaded ticket in the mail becomes much more likely without one of these.  Oh yeah,the speed limit is only really posted when it is an exception to the above rules (posted at the border).
  • When driving in a city, town or village, the right of way at an intersection is automatically given to the vehicle on the right – priorité à droite – unless otherwise indicated by stop or yield/give way signs. This applies even in the case of a small side road entering a major main road. The vehicle traveling on the main road must give way to the vehicle entering on the right.   I have just been waiving everyone on ahead and hope that when I am not doing this properly, people appreciate my being nice.  We are working on it.
  • At a traffic circle, the vehicle already on the circle has the right of way over vehicles joining from the right. No problems so far here, but as a nation, the US has great difficulty with the traffic circle.
  • On hill roads, the car travelling uphill has priority over the one coming down.  You should see the narrowness of some of these roads. This makes perfect sense.
  • If a car is not registered in the driver’s name, the driver should carry a letter from the registered owner authorising the use. Very, very different.

 

Sunday Funday

No work on Sunday, Funday
There are many things that are not permitted on Sundays here in Switzerland. They include:
  • vacuuming
  • Laundry
  • Running a Dishwasher
  • Mowing your lawn
  • Washing your car
  • Pulling weeds in your garden
  • Pretty much all work whatsoever

As a result, most stores and businesses are closed on Sunday.  What are you supposed to do on Sundays in Switzerland?  Here’s a list:

  • Hike (one of the most quintessentially Swiss activities)
  • Ski (the other one)
  • Boat
  • Bike
  • Have a drink at a cafe (the drink is often alcoholic), after church or otherwise
  • Going to church not required or encouraged, but permitted for individuals to choose
  • Spend time with your family
  • Watch a movie
  • Listen to music
  • Enjoy a nice meal
  • Enjoy the weather
  • Enjoy not working

As an American, this is a very foreign concept. The up side, it is remarkably easy to get used to.