As It Happens

Zurich celebrates spring by blowing up a giant snowman

Zurich, Switzerland celebrates spring's arrival with the Burning of the Böögg, a giant snowman effigy whose head is filled with fireworks. The sooner his head explodes and falls off, the better.

It is, quite possibly, the best way ever to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring.

Yesterday, the people of Zurich gathered in the city centre for their traditional spring festival called Sechseläuten. There was a parade, costumes, horses and flowers. Sechseläuten means "Ringing at six", which marks the end of the winter workday. It's also the exact moment that the Burning of the Böögg begins.

The Böögg, in case you weren't aware, is a giant snowman figure whose head and body are filled with fireworks. Residents of Zurich gather around, set the Böögg on fire, and wait to see how long it takes for his head to explode.

The quicker it does, the nicer spring and summer will be. The longer it takes, the worse the weather will be. 

"It was a very jubilant mood, everyone was very excited. People were waiting to see how long the snowman was going to burn," explains Christina Fryer, who took in the festivities yesterday. She maintains the website, a site for English-speaking visitors to Switzerland. 

The news is not good. It took 20 minutes, 39 seconds for the Böögg's head to immolate and explode. That's a slow burn in Böögg terms. The quickest was in 2003 when he went up in 5 minutes, 42 seconds. Most people were wagering around 12 minutes yesterday. 

Needless to say, the Böögg is not made of snow. Fryer tells As It Happen's Carol Off that the snowman is made of wood and flammable padding, and sits on a huge pyre of sticks and wood. And the head, of course, is filled with firecrackers

It makes for quite the spectacle 

"Everybody is oohing and ahhing as the fireworks go off," Fryer says. "It really does look spectacular."