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.
10 March 2024