Bonfire Sunday is definitely one of the most popular local customs amongst the children of Innerrhoden. These bonfires at the start of spring have their roots in pagan ceremonies designed to drive away the winter and encourage the fertility of the fields.

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, with old Christmas trees being a particular favourite of the youngsters. Adults help the children pile up the collected material in clearly visible bonfire sites in time for Laetere Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. And pride of place at the top of the bonfire goes to the «Funkebaabe», a witch doll filled with fireworks. She is seen as a personification of the winter that the fire is symbolically putting to an end. In earlier times the various districts of Appenzell competed to build the highest, most spectacular bonfire – the «Hehrfunken». The custom is practised most strongly in the district of Ried in the 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 and in days gone by its members would take part in the Fasnacht procession, creating a great deal of noise drumming on battered metal buckets.

This local event is a highpoint of the year for the inhabitants of Ried. On the hilltop above the district, near to the spot where up until 1874 the gallows stood, a 15 metre high pyramid (25 metres in former times) of firewood is constructed. 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 translates roughly as «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 are still glowing on the Monday.


Appenzell and outlying districts


Fourth Sunday in Lent, 19th of march 2023