Bonfire Sunday

Bonfire Sunday is one of the most popular local customs amongst youngsters. Bonfire Sunday has its origin in pagan ceremonies. These were designed to drive away the winter and encourage fertile fields. Therefore, it symbolizes the beginning of spring.

As the last chords and drum rolls of the Carnival marching bands fade into the background, schoolchildren from Appenzell and surrounding communities eagerly start collecting branches and shrubs. In earlier times, anything that would burn was heaped up to make the bonfires. Including old tyres, mattresses, furniture, pallets and shuttering. However, these days only untreated wood is allowed, old Christmas trees being a particular favorite. Adults help the children pile up the collected material in clearly visible bonfire sites in time for Laetere Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. The top of the bonfire is decorated with the «Funkebaabe», a doll filled with fireworks. She is seen as a symbol of winter that the fire is putting an end to. In the olden days, the various districts of Appenzell competed against each other, to find out who could build the tallest, most spectacular bonfire most spectacular bonfire – the «Hehrfunken». The custom is practised most strongly in the district of Ried, south of Appenzell. Formerly an impoverished area of the town with a very interesting social history and its own administration. Ried has its own Bonfire Society its members take part in the Carnival procession, creating a great deal of noise drumming on battered metal buckets.

This local event is a high point of the year for the inhabitants of Ried. On the hilltop above the district, near the spot where up until 1874 the gallows stood, a 20 to 25 metres tall pyramid of firewood. As darkness falls, young and old alike congregate at the bonfire site with burning torches and wild cries of «Ried lebede hoch, dreimal hoch», which roughly translates to: «Three cheers for Ried». At a given sign, everyone throws their torches into the bonfire and a magnificent firework is lit. According to tradition, many children smoke their first cigarette or cheroot here. The «Funkenbaabe» explodes and the bonfire continues to blaze for hours – often the embers of the fire still glow the following day.


Appenzell and surrounding communities


Fourth Sunday during Lent at dusk, In most surrounding communities the bonfires take place on Saturday.
30th March 2025

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