Spring festivals and customs

Springtime festivals and customs are often related to the traditional Christian roots of the Easter holidays or to traditional efforts to banish winter. But sometimes they are simply sporting competitions, between people or between cows.

The burning Böögg snowman in Zurich.
The burning of the Böögg snowman in Zurich is intended to drive away winter. © Zürich Tourismus / Andreas Omvik

Easter is the most important Christian holiday, and every region celebrates it in its own way. In the Ticino village of Mendrisio, for example, Easter processions with hundreds of participants take place on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In the small town of Romont, in the canton of Fribourg, the ceremony of the 'Pleureuses', the wailing women, is still performed each year. It dates back to the 15th century. Black-veiled women follow a girl representing the Virgin Mary through the town's streets, accompanied acoustically by liturgical chants and prayers.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, Swiss children set off in search of the brightly painted Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies that their parents have hidden in the house or garden. In many places, there are local customs. One of these is the 'Eiertütsche' in German-speaking Switzerland. The custom involves hitting two Easter eggs against each other to see which one has the harder shell or whose technique is better at cracking the other person's egg.

'Chalandamarz' in Grisons

The canton of Grisons' traditional Chalandamarz, in early March, banishes winter and welcomes spring by ringing bells. Children in traditional costumes and pointed hats parade early in the morning with bells and whips around the fountains and from house to house, singing Chalandamarz songs. They collect food and money for their meal together and their school fieldtrip. This custom is featured in the well-known children's book Schellenursli by Selina Chönz and Alois Carigiet. It was also made into a film.

Sechseläuten in Zurich

In Zurich, the guilds celebrate the 'Sechseläuten'. Each year, on the third Monday of April, they parade through the city in historical costumes. When the parade is over, a giant artificial snowman called the 'Böögg', made of fabric, wood shavings, and firecrackers, is set on fire. The sooner it explodes, the longer and warmer summer will be. Thousands of people come to take in this local tradition.

Ring cow fights in the canton of Valais

Between spring and autumn, the Eringer cow fights are held in the canton of Valais. Eringer are the traditional breed of cows in Valais. They are known for being sure-footed and pugnacious. In an arena, the animals fight each other head-first with their horns. A jury then crowns the winning cow as queen. The big cantonal championship takes place in the town of Aproz in May. 

The Patrouille des Glaciers

The Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) is an international military ski mountaineering competition of the Swiss Armed Forces. It takes place every two years. The race's route leads from Zermatt to Verbier. Each patrol consists of three runners who are either military personnel or civilians. This unique competition is known for its route's elevations and length (53 km) and for the greatly challenging high alpine terrain it covers. Over 4,700 people from around 30 countries take part in the Patrouille des Glaciers each year. People have also come from faraway countries to participate; for example, South Africa, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.