Bizarre Festivals of Switzerland

There is no doubt that these festivals pass as completely normal for 99% of Swiss.

However, they may seem totally bizarre to you and you seriously wonder how anyone could have thought of this stuff. As it turns out, these festivals are the result of centuries-old traditions combined with Swiss people's desire to simply have a good time. So, put on your diversity goggles and embrace the curious world of Swiss festivals!

 

Bell Dorado (Chalandamarz)

Chalandamarz Swiss Tradition

This March 1 festival is based on the popular children's story "Schellenursli", in which the protagonist retrieves a cowbell from a snowed in chalet in order to participate in a parade like all the other kids.

So in the mountainous towns of Eastern Switzerland, boys will crowd the streets and create quite a "Bell Dorado". The thought is that the louder the noise, the faster the green pastures will grow (and evil spirits will vanish)...

Cowbells, anyone?

 

Sausage Tossing (Eis-Zwei-Geissebei)

Eis Zwei Geissebei Rapperswil

This odd tradition dates back centuries: Every year on Fat Tuesday at 3:15 PM, hundreds of children and adults will gather in front of Rapperswil's city hall.

In response to the mayor's question, "Are all my boys here?", the kids will effectively scream "One, two, goat leg!"

As a result, the mayor and council members will open up the windows and toss out sausages, loafs of bread and pastries into the crowd.

 

Goose Piñata (Gansabhauet)

Gansabhauet Sursee

Every year on the first day of carnival, November 11, the town of Sursee celebrates what might most appropriately be called "goose pinata". Odd as it seems, this custom was once very common all over Europe.

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Essentially, young townspeople (!) will get themselves tipsy at city hall before covering their eyes and dressing up in a red cape with a gigantic sun mask. Using a saber, their main objective is to slam a dead goose to the ground with a single stroke.

No goodies inside the goose, though.

 

Appenzell Silvester Claus (Silvesterchläuse)

Silvesterkläuse in Urnäsch, Switzerland - 2013

On New Year's Eve and January 13, some freakish creatures will roam the streets of the Appenzell region in a quest for hot Glühwein.

Locals are quick to serve them because as the day drags on, they tend to get moodier (and thus scarier)... Our Christian was able to snap some pictures of this long lasting Swiss tradition.

 

 

Giant Sledge Race (Hornschlittenrennen)

Hornschlittenrennen in St. Johann - Courtesy Isar Pictures

Although it may look amateurish, this annual event in Alt St. Johann has become more and more professional over the years.

While most participate for fun, some teams have perfected their sledge racing techniques to inch out a tenth of a second here or there...

 

Cow Pie Bingo

Does this require much explanation? Just take what Switzerland has plenty (green pastures, cows, money), mix it all up, and out comes "cow bingo"! This game is also known as "Cow Patty Bingo" or "Fertilizer Lottery".
 

 
Have we missed anything? Have you run into some odd festivals in Switzerland? Do not shy away from sharing...

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Dimitri Burkhard

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Newly Swissed GmbH
As the founder, editor and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of the Swiss Travelwriters Club.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.
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12 replies
  1. Moonchild
    Moonchild says:

    Great start! There are so many weird festivals in CH, you could never collect them all! Just want to point out that Chalandamarz is not based on Schellenursli, but vice versa. It’s just that no one ever heard of it before the book came out! Some other festivals that might qualify for your page: Basler Fasnacht and Vogel Gryff, and Zürich’s Sechselaüten. In Boniswil/Hallwil they have Bärtzeli (St. Berchtold’s Tag), which is similar to the Silvesterchläuse (probably *lots* of versions of this). I think myswitzerland.com has a festival page. Check it out.

    Reply
    • zilti
      zilti says:

      To further add to this, Chalandamarz dates back about 2000 years. Also note how the name Chalandamarz is actually slightly disguised Latin.

      Also there’s “Solätte”, a spring festival, of which no one really knows anymore what it refers to or symbolizes.

      Reply
      • newlyswissed
        newlyswissed says:

        Great that you’ve brought up “Solätte”! We’ll definitively look into it for a follow up post… ^Dimitri

  2. AndrewWS
    AndrewWS says:

    In Zurich, they have something called Knabenschiessen, which seems to involve galloping horses in the streets, processions with fish being thrown into the crowds, and an exploding dummy. No shooting of boys, though, tempting though that might be.

    I suppose it’s the Swiss way of compensating for being obsessed with respectability, work and money all the rest of the year.

    Reply
  3. Melissa Madeira
    Melissa Madeira says:

    In St-Sulpice Vaud we have a Fete Du Printemps where we have a parade and then burn a papier mache doll to signify the end of winter. It is kind of like groundhog day, the quicker it burns the shorted the summer etc. I think it may be a german tradition?

    Reply
    • newlyswissed
      newlyswissed says:

      Thanks so much for sharing! This sounds very much like the “Böögg” snowman from Sechseläuten, which is a Zürich tradition…

      Reply

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