The History of Sechseläuten

Every April, the Zurich guilds celebrate Sechseläuten. But where does this custom originate?

This age-old tradition dates back to the 16th century, when the City Council – which at that time comprised exclusively members of various Zurich guilds – resolved that in summer, work should stop an hour later than in the winter months. In winter, workers already downed tools at 5.00pm due to the failing light. During the summer, however, people were able to work as long as there was daylight, and so the bell signaling the end of the working day would toll an hour later, at 6.00pm.

It was decided that on the first Monday after the vernal equinox, the second largest bell in the Grossmünster should ring out at 6.00pm precisely to proclaim the beginning of spring and thus also of the new working hours. Thus the beginning of spring was determined for all of Zurich’s residents, and this occasion is still celebrated to this day. The spring festival became known as “Sechseläuten” – or “Sächsilüüte” as it is called in local dialect – which literally means “the six o’clock ringing of the bells”, and the name has remained unchanged since the 16th century.

Incidentally, Sechseläuten is no longer celebrated on the first Monday after the vernal equinox; in 1952, it was moved to the third Monday of April. However, if this day falls on Easter Monday, the festival is held a week later.