Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zibele-Märit*

One of the first major events we heard about when we got here was the much anticipated Zwieble Fest aka Onion Fest. Yes an entire festival to celebrate the onion. It occurs on the 4th Monday of November. Right before they kick off the Christmas market season which starts in early December.

Being the closet Iron Chef that I am I found a festival devoted to a single ingredient thrilling. Also we had heard rumours that it was positively "unSwiss." You had me at "unSwiss."

Here's a bit of history first.  It seems there are varying accounts on why this event exists. Some say it has to do with the Feast of St. Martin. Some say it has to do with a pre-existing Garlic festival that was taking place in the 15th century.  I personally like the story I heard that it was put together as a thank you to another city for helping the Bernese during a huge fire in 1405. So no matter how you slice it, it's been around for a long time and it celebrates all the awesome things that you can do with onions that aren't just food.

Things kick off around 7am officially but farmers and vendors start arriving around 3 or 4 in the morning. About 50 tonnes of onions are brought in by farmers from the local area. They're woven in to breads and garlands. Turned into doll, bouquets and, wreaths. Made into soups and tarts or just served with sausage and cheese. Oh there is garlic and various stalls with local fruit, veggies, sausage and other trinkets too but truly the onion reigns supreme!

We were told the time to go was first thing in the morning. And by first thing people meant like 7am. Now if you know me, you know 7 am just doesn't work for me. John would rather be attacked by a rabid badger than have anything to do with me that early in the morning. We decided we would go separately and then meet up later. Johnathan went on his lunch break with some friends from work. I met up with an ex-pat friend and we went in the afternoon. Honestly, I can see why people would say go in the morning. Why? Less confetti.

Here is where it gets "unSwiss" there seems to be this bizarre thing that occurs during Onion Fest. I hesitate to call it a "tradition" because really it just seems like an excuse to for the Swiss to litter without feeling guilt. Later in the day = kids out of school = confetti being thrown in your face every 2 seconds. Basically they have bags the size of a toddler filled with confetti that they sell for people to throw (or fire from confetti guns) to their hearts content. To give you an idea of the scale of the confetti coverage my mother saw one of my photos and assumed it had snowed. No mom, that's confetti. However in true Swiss fashion the clean up starts promptly at 7pm and the next day it's like Onion fest never happened.  For a country that makes me pay 18 francs for 10 garbage bags the confetti thing confuses me. It's so environmentally unfriendly. But then again this country has also legalized assisted dying but God help you if you flush your toilet past 10:30 at night. It really is a country of extremes.

Oh and lets not forget the weird squeaky mallets people like to "bop" you on the head with. I'm sorry, I'm a derby girl, you bop me on the head...I punch you in the face**. It's really that simple. I can handle finding confetti in my bra but the head bopping with mallets is not cool.

Being accosted by mallets and confetti aside Onion Fest is pretty awesome. The joy in the air is just so palpable. People are having a darn good time just being out and enjoying local food, local vendors and mingling. I really can't compare it to anything I've seen in Canada. The Swiss take such pride in everything local that its really a cool thing to experience. Regardless of HOW it started I'm glad it exists.

* Yes I know that's not how you spell onion in German. It is how you spell it in Bernese Swiss German.

** Despite wanting to and having ample opportunity I didn't actually punch anyone in the face.

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2 comments:

  1. When I think of Switzerland, I think of chocolates, cheese and the UN! This is an interesting new fact about it, onions, who would have guessed.
    Thanks for sharing. By the way, I'm looking forward to more of your posts.

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    1. Hello Jeremy! I was exactly the same way, chocolate, cheese, mountains and the UN. But boy does Bern love it's onions.

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