Fun_People Archive
3 May
Swiss Holiday Fun

Date: Tue,  3 May 94 20:17:33 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: Swiss Holiday Fun

Forwarded-by: "Pat Parseghian" <>
Forwarded by: Jeff Forys <>

I thought I'd write you to tell you about our most recent holiday.
Yesterday was Sechselaeuten which is a special holiday observed only in the
city of Zuerich. It's sort of an "end of the winter" kind of thing similar
to Groundhogs Day in the US. Only it's a little more interesting and
certainly more entertaining.

At twelve o'clock all the stores close and everyone heads to the streets
for a long parade. People seem to put a lot more effort into the parades
here than in the US (with the exception of Thanksgiving in New York City,
of course). People here are dressed in colorful costumes and wear painted,
hand-carved, wooden masks. Some of the detail is really amazing. The
floats they have are usually large and complicated. And, of course, there
are the traditional horses, bands, and people throwing things in the
crowd (I almost got hit with a loaf of bread).

Zuerich is actually built on a river that divides the city in half and
the parade heads south along the river until the river ends at the tip
of Lake Zuerich. Here, by the park, there is a clearing that is generally
used for carnivals and such. But for Sechselaeuten the entire area is clear
except for a huge (30 feet) wood pile with a snowman on top! Yes, that's
right, they are going to *kill* the snowman. Burn him to a crisp! And,
more than that, they've actually filled his head with dynamite to ensure
that his final moments will be as entertaining as possible to the sick
and perverted people who come to watch this thing. (I, of course, was only
there as an "observer").

As the clock strikes six, with the sound of bells filling the air, scores
of men, dressed in medieval armor and carrying the swords and flags of
their families, ride enormous war-horses around in a circle surrounding
the fearful, but helpless, snowman. The wood is doused with gasoline and
set ablaze. But, undaunted, the smile on the snowman's face remains. A
sort of nervous laughter in the face of death. As the flames grow higher
and huge clouds of smoke fill the air, even more gasoline is poured on until
that moment approaches when you realize there is no turning back. The feet
of the snowman catch fire. And as the smaller explosives that have been
tied to various parts of his anatomy pop and bang the crowd cheers in a
twisted excitement. Slowly, his limbs melt away and he starts to fall over
no longer being able to support his own weight. And finally, as the last
glimmer of life leaves him his head explodes with a blinding flash of light.
Frosty's smile is gone. And, slowly, the crowd heads home to watch the
replay on the evening news.

It isn't til later that the science comes into play. You see, they record
the exact time at which Frost's head explodes and use this data (with some
very complicated equations with natural logs and stuff) to determine how
many winter days we have remaining. It is the fascination with correlations
like this that made me interested in being a scientist in the first place.
Who would have thought that the length of time it takes to burn a snowman
would have any relation to meteorology? Of course, I'm still not sure of
the details but I'm sure it's all very valid.

Well, that's all from here for now. But I'll stay in touch. Keep an eye
out for my next letter entitled "Leeches: The Wonders of Modern Medicine".

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []