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TRADITION

IN PICTURES: Swiss snowman blown up in mountains to herald ‘great summer’ ahead

Cancelled in 2020, the ceremonial burning of the Boeoegg was moved to the Swiss mountains this year.

IN PICTURES: Swiss snowman blown up in mountains to herald 'great summer' ahead
Switzerland blow up the snowman effigy Boeoegg in April 2021. Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

A giant snowman brandishing a pitchfork exploded in a blaze of fireworks atop a pyre on a snowy mountain pass named Devil’s Bridge on Monday, the first time the spring festival ceremony has been held outside the Swiss city of Zurich.

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

That the snowman effigy named Boeoegg blew up fairly quickly was taken to herald a “great summer” ahead, a positive outcome after last year’s festivities were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The burning of Boeoegg — the climax of Zurich’s traditional spring holiday Sechselaeuten — is normally held in the city centre, but coronavirus restrictions meant that was not possible this year.

Instead the snowman was sent 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Zurich and installed on the famed Devil’s Bridge in Schoellenen Gorge, the site of dramatic battles between French and Russian troops in 1799 during the Napoleonic Wars.

Boeoegg — who represents the evils of winter — normally holds a broom, but given the bridge’s name, this year he was handed a pitchfork.

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Local tradition says that the time between the lighting of Boeoegg’s pyre and the explosion of his fireworks-stuffed head predicts what the coming summer will be like.

This year it took a relatively speedy 12 minutes and 57 seconds, despite the improvised pyre being exposed to freezing cold and wind in the heart of the mountains.

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

While a decent time, it is still significantly more than the record of five minutes, 42 seconds recorded during a heatwave in 2003.

Boeoegg’s speedy demise prompted debate on local channel TeleZuri, broadcasting the event, with a spectator commenting: “I think it will be a great summer.”

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

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NEW YEAR

Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome

The Italians have a reputation for being a superstitious bunch, and some of their New Year customs can startle the uninitiated foreigner. From the correct underwear to smashing crockery, The Local looks at the stories behind Italy's strangest New Year traditions.

Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome
Fireworks in Venice. Photo: msavoia/Depositphotos

They wear red underwear for the occasion


Photo: nito103/DepositPhotos

Whether you've got a date for your New Year's Eve party or not, you need to put some extra thought into your undergarments. Red underwear will apparently help to fend off evil spirits and negativity, bringing you happiness in the coming year.

A study carried out by the Italian drinks company San Pellegrino revealed that 60 percent of Italians think the custom is linked to fertility or good luck in your sexual endeavours, but it is actually much more general. The colour red has been used for centuries to ward off war and other disasters. You might even see red underwear hanging in the streets or shop windows during the lead-up to New Year.

However, it’s traditional that your capodanno underwear should be new and a gift from someone else, so no digging out a tattered pair of red pants, and if you buy your own, you’re cheating. 

The food: lentils, sausage and grapes


Photo: aizram18/DepositPhotos

This is Italy, so food is of paramount importance, and although the traditional New Year's menu might seem like a random selection of foodstuffs, it's actually carefully thought through.

Lentils symbolize wealth and prosperity – either because their round, flat shape and golden brown colour means they resemble gold coins, or because they are long-lasting and so represent longevity.

Then you've got the sausage meat, replaced in some parts of Italy by stuffed pig's trotters, which again means good fortune for the coming year, because it is a rich food symbolizing abundance.

But don't forget to finish your meal with grapes. These ensure you will be frugal with your new-found wealth, because it was thought that only someone with excellent willpower could save the grapes from the spring harvest time until the New Year meal.

They spend the evening playing bingo


Photo: soniacri/DepositPhotos

In many parts of the world, card games and bingo are associated more with pensioners than trendy parties, but at many Italian New Year's Eve parties everyone settles around the table for a game of ‘tombola’ – similar to bingo. 

Tombola was created in Naples in the 1700s as an alternative to gambling, which the church did not approve of. King Charles of Naples made a concession to the Catholics and said he would ban gambling during the Christmas period only. But Neopolitans found a way to get around the new law by playing tombola at home during the holidays. 

They party until sunrise


Photo: arkade/DepositPhotos

Italians don’t do things by halves, and though you may be used to New Year celebrations fizzling out shortly after midnight, be prepared to keep the party going until the early morning. In Italy the celebrations usually last until at least sunrise, so that you can see the new year arrive.

They throw things 


Photo: victoriagam/DepositPhotos

Watch out for falling objects – in some southern parts of the country, it’s traditional to throw possessions, particularly crockery, out of your window to show that you are ready for a new start in the new year.

If you'd rather that new start didn't involve arguments with the neighbours about why you chucked a plate at their head in the middle of the night, an alternative tradition is crashing pots and pans together at your front door, to frighten away evil spirits (see below).

They love a big bang (with a purpose)


Photo: maforche/DepositPhotos

True, this New Year custom isn't unique to Italy, but while other nationalities may simply enjoy the bright colours, Italians have a different reason for setting off fireworks.

According to superstition, demons and bad spirits don’t like loud noises, so this a way to ensure they're all scared off before the new year begins. Some people even say the pop of champagne corks is the reason prosecco or spumante are favoured over normal wines – well, it’s as good an excuse as any for a glass of fizz.

You'll have your future mapped out (so avoid babies, doctors and priests)


Photo: shippee/DepositPhotos

Superstition dictates that the first person you meet after midnight on New Year will dictate how the rest of the year plays out. If you see someone older of the opposite sex first, congratulations, you’re going to have a great new year (it's a sign that you will live a long life and be lucky in love this year).

If it’s a baby or someone of the same sex, your year hasn’t got off to the best start. Variations on this legend state doctors are a bad omen too, because it's a sign your health will deteriorate, while others say you should be wary of seeing a priest or a postman, though the reasons behind this aren't clear.

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