Yesterday was our first participation in Räbeliechti. This Swiss Halloween-ish tradition involving turnips (Räben) seems kind of like what *Halloween should be, or maybe was back in the good old days before crazy over-Americanisation and ridiculous amounts of sweets and horror-masks and people dressing as the victims or perps of gruesome crimes because that’s so funny! (Er, OK so I have a bit of a problem with some of this stuff – but I guess that’s a blog post for another time).
But I digress – Räbeliechti- involves children carving turnip lanterns and then going on a procession with them through the streets in the Räbeliechtiumzug, while singing songs. It’s mostly for kids but of course the adults troop along too and belt out the choons (assuming they know the words!) The biggest Räbeliechtiumzug in Switzerland happens in the town of Richterswil about halfway down Lake Zurich at Richterswil Raben Chibli with up to 20,000 visitors attending and 30,000kg turnips used! We had our local version last night.
It started with the Räben schnitzen (turnip carving) at my son’s Kindergarten. Parents, grandparents or a family friend were invited to come along for an hour in the morning and given instructions on how to do it. We were told to BYO spitziges Messer (sharp knife), Ausstechförmli (cookie cutter shapes) and Aushöler (melon baller to scoop out the turnip flesh).
I went along and slightly messed up the carving due to realising too late that you’re not meant to carve all the way through the turnip, like with a jack-o-lantern, but rather carve the shapes and leave a thin film of turnip flesh on those sections so the light shines through prettily but is protected from wind etc. Oh well – I paid close attention to the Schweizer Grossvater (Swiss grandad) at our table doing a very profesh job and will nail it next year! Anyway, our Räbe didn’t look half bad, if I do say so myself.
Now, for the Räbeliechtiumzug – the parade. This was really sweet. The kids (and parents) met at the Kindergarten at 6.15pm to light the candles in their turnips. Then the Kindergarten teacher led the procession (kids in pairs, holding their Räbeliechti) to the local school ground where we met up with about a dozen other groups of kids from all the Kindergartens nearby.
Once the groups had gathered, we all paraded en masse to the area’s forest park, singing the Räbeliechti songs all the way. I have literally never seen our local streets so packed with people! It was so lovely to see all the differently carved Räbeli lighting up the darkness with the kids so serious about holding them and singing away. Once we got to the park, there was a huge bonfire (they love making fires outdoors in Switzerland, big time). Everybody gathered around and sang the songs again (there were 3 or 4 official ones).
Finally, Kürbissuppe (pumpkin soup) was served (BYO mug) and everyone stood around chatting and/or playing in the heaps of autumn leaves on the ground, then we headed for home (around 8pm). Not sure why it was pumpkin soup rather than turnip – although I guess turnip soup is pretty gak. So there you have it: sweet songs**, community spirit, home-made turnip candle holders with pretty, flickering lights, and not a scary mask in sight. I love this Swiss tradition!
*In fact, we also enjoyed Halloween last week because, as a sad old goth, I love making costumes and dressing up (and probably should enjoy the dark stuff a bit more and yet, and yet… it’s often done in such a non-thinking way… anyway, leave it).
**I should also add that I get that Halloween / Samhain (and probably Räbeliechti) is not really meant to be sweet. As a celebration embracing (or warding off) the impending winter and the time of year when the gap between the world of the living and that of the dead is narrowest, this occasion reminds us of our mere mortality and is about bringing our feeble human light to the darkness and feasting against the cold and hunger that possibly lies ahead. But also: abundant food, heaters and penicillin Mofos so… yeah enough with the lollies already!