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In the Light of Turnip Lanterns

It's been a beautiful fall this year. Now, the leaves have fallen from the trees and the days are getting shorter and shorter. It's once more the season of cozy evenings by the fire or hot punch on the ice skating rink.

Traditionally, these first days of winter mark the beginning of the Christmas season in Switzerland. It also the time when the traditional turnip lantern processions, which we call 'Räbeliechtliumzug' in Swiss German, take place. As soon as it gets dark, kindergarten and primary school kids walk around town with lanterns called 'Räbeliechtli' which they carved from turnips. And no, this is not a Swiss version of Halloween despite the obvious similarities. Let me explain.

Räbeliechtli

Origins of Räbeliechtli

The tradition of making lanterns from turnips has its origins in the celebration of the last harvest of the year. Turnips were amongst the last vegetables harvested and I assume that is why they were originally chosen for this craft. In the circle of the family, children hollowed and carved their turnips and put a candle inside to turn it into a lantern.

How we celebrate Räbeliechtliumzug

Today, turnips are grown almost only for the purpose of lantern-making and the carving mainly takes place in schools or kindergartens. With the help of parents and teachers, the kids carefully empty their turnips and try to carve beautiful patterns on them. Moon and stars are a very popular symbol but sometimes a child prefers a car or a pony. Cutting accidents are quite frequent during those carving hours but I have never heard of any serious injury due to turnips carving. Three strings are attached to the turnips, a candle put inside and the lantern is ready for use.

The schools together with the community government also organize the annual turnips lantern march. The street lights are turned off in most parts of town while the kids walk through it in a long procession with their lanterns.

Typically, there is also a lot of singing involved. Songs such as "I walk with my lantern" have been part of the childhood of most Swiss adults. It is quite an experience for a child to walk through a dark town with only the light of the lanterns shining and I still find it rather beautiful as a grown up.

A short video of a Räbeliechtliumzug in Würenlos:



* This article was originally called "In the Light of Beetroot Lanterns" until (thankfully) someone pointed out my translation error and I corrected 'beetroot' with 'turnip'.


© 2011 IRENE WYRSCH "A HUMOROUS GUIDE TO SWITZERLAND" ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Comments

  1. I absolutely love this post. Gosh, you really took me straight back to my childhood this time....and we are talking nearly 40 years (I hate to admit).
    Spot-on description of a Räbeliechtliumzug and lovely background info.
    Thanks for this little mement down memory lane!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It's one of my favorite Swiss winter/fall traditions as well!

      Delete
  2. This post is great, but just to clarify. Beetroot is Beeten, and Turnips are Raeben. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for pointing out my error. You're obviously right. I just did a quick search and indeed, Raeben are turnips and not beetroot. I'll correct it in the article as soon as possible!

      Delete

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