Skip to main content

In the Light of Beetroot Lanterns

It's been a beautiful fall this year. Now, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the days are getting shorter and shorter. It's once more the season of cozy evenings by the fire or hot punch on the ice skating rink.

Traditionally, these first days of winter mark the beginning of the Christmas season in Switzerland. It also the time when the traditional beetroot lantern processions, which we call 'Räbeliechtliumzug' in Swiss German, take place. As soon as it gets dark, kindergarten and primary school kids walk around town with lanterns called 'Räbeliechtli' which they carved from beetroots. And no, this is not a Swiss version of Halloween despite the obvious similarities. Let me explain.


Origins of Räbeliechtli

The tradition of making lanterns from beetroots has its origins in the celebration of the last harvest of the year. Beetroots were amongst the last vegetables harvested and I assume that is why they were originally chosen for this craft. In the circle of the family, children hollowed and carved their beetroots and put a candle inside to turn it into a lantern.

How we celebrate Räbeliechtliumzug

Today, beetroots are grown almost only for the purpose of lantern-making and the carving mainly takes place in schools or kindergartens. With the help of parents and teachers, the kids carefully empty their beetroots and try to carve beautiful patterns on them. Moon and stars are a very popular symbol but sometimes a child prefers a car or a pony. Cutting accidents are quite frequent during those carving hours but I have never heard of any serious injury due to beetroot carving. Three strings are attached to the beetroot, a candle put inside and the lantern is ready for use.

The schools together with the community government also organize the annual beetroot lantern march. The street lights are turned off in most parts of town while the kids walk through it in a long procession with their lanterns.

Typically, there is also a lot of singing involved. Songs such as "I walk with my lantern" have been part of the childhood of most Swiss adults. It is quite an experience for a child to walk through a dark town with only the light of the lanterns shining and I still find it rather beautiful as a grown up.

A short video of a Räbeliechtliumzug in Würenlos:



  1. I absolutely love this post. Gosh, you really took me straight back to my childhood this time....and we are talking nearly 40 years (I hate to admit).
    Spot-on description of a Räbeliechtliumzug and lovely background info.
    Thanks for this little mement down memory lane!


Post a Comment

You have something to add or would like to ask a question? I would love to hear from you!

Popular posts from this blog

How to Spot a Swiss Person

As an expat one usually spots fellow expats right away. It's not only the language or the looks of people but rather the little peculiarities of life that seem so normal at home that give us away while abroad. Obviously, it's a cliche that all people from the same place (country, city, continent) behave in the same way and I am far from making that claim. However, growing up in a certain surrounding does rub off on people's behavior and some similarities can certainly be observed.

This is also true for Swiss people. According to the Swiss stereotype, we are a clean, punctual and strictly organized people. However, there are many exceptions like my Swiss friend who is always late or my brother whose room was a total mess while growing up. Yet, although they do not fit the description of a typical Swiss person, they still have some traits that give them away as Swiss. The same is probably true for myself - if I like it or not.
10 Signs you are dealing with a Swiss Person So,…

Schätzli, Schnüggel and Müüsli - Terms of Endearment in Swiss German

If you've ever been invited to the home of a Swiss couple, you are probably familiar with the most popular Swiss German term of endearment "Schätzli" (little treasure) or one of it's many varieties like e.g. "Schatz" or "Schätzeli". Obviously, this is not the only pet name used by Swiss couples (or parents for that matter). Like many other languages, Swiss German offers a wide variety of words and phrases that you can use to address your loved one.

What most of these pet names have in common is the ending "-li" which basically turns the thing or person a word refers to into something small. For example "Haus" means house and "Hüüsli" means small house. This ending "-li" can also be added to first names as a means of endearment, e.g. Benjaminli, Estherli or Fabienneli.

I tried to come up with a collection of Swiss German pet names but realized I only know a handful. However, after combing through the interne…

10 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Switzerland

The weather has been so so these last few days and will remain rainy and rather cold. No swimming in one of the many lakes of Switzerland, going on a nice bike trip or playing soccer outside unless you are willing to endure some heavy rain.
10 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Switzerland However, there are plenty of fun things to do in Switzerland even on rainy days. Here's the list of my current favorite rainy day activities:
Alpamare: Biggest water park of Switzerland with dozens of water slides and pools. It's open all year round since most of the baths and slides are indoors. It is perfect for a rainy day since there are usually less people than on a sunny day.Zoo Zurich: The famous zoo in Zurich features bears, elephants, monkeys, tigers and the mazoala hall (a tropical glass house). Many animals can be visited in their houses.Swiss National Museum: The Swiss National Museum in Zurich gives an overview over the cultural history of Switzerland. Swiss Museum of Transport:…