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Sechseläuten in Zurich

In a few weeks it's happening again. On Monday April 14th 2023, the inner city of Zurich will be closed off for any traffic for the annual Sechseläuten. What annoys car drivers and people doing business in the city center is the joy of anyone working or going to school in Zurich or a neighboring town simply because they get an additional free day (or free half-a-day) to enjoy the festivities.

But what on earth is this mysterious Sechseläuten and why do only the people of Zurich celebrate it? A why is there a big large snowman and a huge bonfire involved in all this?

the Böögg

What is Sechseläuten?

Sechseläuten is a spring holiday unique to the city of Zurich. The rest of Switzerland and even most towns and places in the canton of Zurich do not celebrate this holiday and no one gets time off to go and participate. It is really a holiday that belongs to the city in a sense that it has its roots in the medieval city structure with guilds and other communities even though it is really a much more modern holiday.

Sechseläuten takes place in the middle of April and centers around an artificial snowman called the "Böögg" that symbolizes winter. After a procession of all guilds of Zurich (usually in traditional costumes) the parade reaches the Sechseläuten-Platz, a central square located right at the shore of Lake Zurich. This is where the Böögg is then burnt on a stake. 

While the horse riders of the different guilds ride around in turns, everyone pays attention to the head of the Böögg which is filled with firecrackers. The time until the head explodes is measured. Popular belief has it, that the faster the Böögg looses its head (e.g. the head explodes with loud boom) the warmer and nicer the following summer shall be.

This video will give you good impression of Sechseläuten:

If you'd like to have your own miniature Sechseläuten, 
you can buy a Pocket Böögg and time your own summer!

Origins of Sechseläuten

The name Sechseläuten (lit. six o'clock bells) comes from a decision of Zurich's city council in 1925. The bells of Zurich's second largest church the Grossmünster were used to call in quitting time for Zurich's working population for generations. On March 11th 1925 the city council decided to set quitting time for summer at 6 pm and winter quitting time at 5 pm. So the Sechseläuten basically refers to the switch of winter quitting time to summer quitting time.

In the Zurich dialect of Swiss German 
Sechseläuten is pronounced 'Sächsilüüte'

This years Sechseläuten

This years Sechseläuten procession will start at 15.00 on Bahnhofstrasse and work its way through most of downtown Zurich. If you consider going to watch it, you can find more information about the procession and Sechseläuten 2023 on the Sechseläuten website.

If you plan on going, I recommend you watch the procession in the beginning on Bahnhofstrasse and then head over to the burning of the Böögg after you've seen all the different guilds. That's the way we always did it as children. Alternatively, you can watch the procession and then head home to watch the burning on TV - although you could also simply watch it on your phone these days. In any case, be ready for big crowds though!

Sechseläuten 2023 in Short

  • Date: 13-17 April 2023
  • Date and time of Zug der Zünfte (main procession): Monday 17 April 2023 15.00 - the procession will follow the usual route
  • Date and time of Kinderumzug (kids event): Sunday 16 April 2023 14.00 - the children walk a slightly different route (a bit shorter)
  • Visiting canton (Gastkanton)Schwyz
  • Participating Guilds (Zünfte): Gesellschaft zur Constaffel, Zunft zur Saffran, Zunft zur Meisen, Zunft zur Schmiden, Zunft zum Weggen, Vereinigte Zünfte zur Gerwe und zur Schuhmachern, Zunft zum Widder, Zunft zur Zimmerleutern, Zunft zur Schneidern, Zunft zur Schiffläuten, Zunft zum Kämbel, Zunft zur Waag, Stadtzunft, Zunft Riesbach, Zunft zu den drei Königen, Zunft Fluntern, Zunft Hottingen, Zunft zu Wiedikon, Zunft Wollishofen, Zunft Hard, Zunft zu Oberstrass, Zunft St. Niklaus, Zunft Höngg, Zunft zur Letzi, Zunft Schwamendingen, Zunft Witikon



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