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SWISS TRADITIONS

Throwing sausages and smoking children: Switzerland’s five weirdest festivals

Although Switzerland is a small country, its culture is diverse and, at times, surprisingly quirky. Here are five wacky traditions you may have not known about — until now.

Throwing sausages and smoking children: Switzerland’s five weirdest festivals
People throw sausages from windows in the Eis-zwei-Geissebei carnival in Rapperswill. Photo: Wikiwand/Wikicommons

In a previous article, we established that the Swiss do actually have a sense of humour.

This is reflected in some decidedly off-the-wall ways that people across Switzerland celebrate various regional holidays.

These five from various regions of the country go above and beyond the usual folkloric displays of yodelling, alphorn playing, and flag waving.

Some of them are related to things many of us think of as quintessentially “Swiss” — such as cattle and guns— while others, well, they just sound like a real barrel of fun.

Cow fighting in Valais

In a country with a pacifist reputation, the cows can get quite combative.

The Hérens breed of cattle, which are specific to some regions of Valais, are known for their sense of hierarchy and feisty nature.

They take no bull from anyone. 

Only one can be crowned as queen, so while the spectators cheer from the stands, the cows literally lock horns in their fight for supremacy within the herd, canton, and even the nation, in what has become an annual event held in the spring in the appropriately named Val d’Hérens.

Photo by Valais Tourisme

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

Knabenschiessen, Zurich

Each September, the sound of gunfire resounds around Switzerland’s largest city.

It is just a bunch of teenagers doing what comes naturally to nearly every Swiss: sharpshooting.

But there’s nothing worrying about it, as the 12- to 16-year-olds are participating in Knabenschiessen (don’t try to pronounce it ), the world’s largest youth rifle competition.

It is one of the oldest in Switzerland, dating back to the 17th century — well before Switzerland’s other weapon, the army knife, was invented.

While the sight of youngsters walking around with rifles slung across their shoulders may alarm some people, it shouldn’t. This is, after all, Switzerland, where guns are as much a part of culture as cheese, chocolate and…fighting cows.

A registration for Knabenschiessen from 1925. Photo: Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Von Paebi – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Pfingstbluttlern, Basel-Country

Scaring your fellow villagers sounds like loads of fun and residents of Ettingen, a community in Basel-Country, have taken this practice to a whole new level.

So much so that Pfingstbluttlern (again, don’t try to pronounce it) is now a local tradition, part of a little-known ancient fertility ritual.

Simply put, during the Pentecost, local men dress up as bushes, parade around town, accost women, and dump them in fountains, all in the name of fun and tradition. 

Hey, what’s not to like?

The Federal Office of Culture

Funkensonntag, Appenzell

If the name of this holiday sounds like “Funky Sunday”, it’s because it is.

What it actually means is “Spark Sunday”, so named after an old custom in which communities around Appenzell competed to see who can produce the greatest spark.

But what is actually funkier (and at least as dangerous) than setting fire to bales of straw is children lighting up cigarettes.

Children are allowed to smoke cigarettes and cigars for the duration of the festival, but need to pack the smokes away when the festival is over. 

As you can probably see from the images, they certainly enjoy it. 

These days, the Funkensonntag is a cattle festival held in October — the only such event in Switzerland (and possibly elsewhere as well) where children are allowed to smoke.

Nobody actually knows how this custom originated or why it is still allowed, but it is probably one of the weirdest. 

Children in Appenzell in traditional clothing (presumably waiting to light up). Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Eis-Zwei-Geissebei, St. Gallen

Most people in Switzerland eat sausages, not toss them out the window.

Except in Rapperswill, canton St. Gallen, where the sausage-tossing is an actual tradition, believed to date back to the siege and destruction of the town on February 24th,1350.

Basically, each year on that day the windows of the town hall open and a council member asks “Sind alli mini Buebe doo?” (Are all my boys here?).

Hundreds of expectant children gathered in front of the building shout back “Ja! Eis, zwei, Geissebei!“(Yes, one, two, goat-leg), after which sausages and other foods are tossed out of the window.

We don’t know whether the children then light up their cigarettes or get their guns and go shooting.

There you have it — five truly weird Swiss traditions you should know about (though you may wish you didn’t).

READ MORE: Eight unwritten rules that explain how Switzerland works

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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