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

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
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.

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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