In November, many towns celebrate Räbechilbi, literally “turnip party.” In short, people carve designs into turnips, light them up like a lantern and have a parade. The turnip lanterns represent the warmth of home during the cold winter months. It’s beautiful, special tradition that you should experience at least once during your time in Switzerland.
The biggest Räbechilbi is in Richterswil, about a 20 min drive south of Zurich on the west side of the lake. The main event is a big parade through town with marching bands and floats decorated with turnip lanterns. The parade is usually the second Saturday in November, with the parade starting at 18:30pm. Check their website for details.
The event attracts thousands of people, so you should definitely take public transportation. You can take the train to Richterswil, Bahnhof (S2 or S8), which runs about every 15 mins, about 30 mins from Zurich. The train gets really crowded, so be prepared, especially if you are bringing a stroller.
As you enter the town, you’ll need to buy a ticket (last time I went it was CHF 6/adult, kids free) from one of the many staff wandering the train station.
The parade is nice, but my favorite part is simply walking through town, which is lit up with thousands of turnip lanterns. While the parade route and food stands are very busy, the side streets are quiet and so lovely with all the flickering candlelight. You should plan to spend some time just wandering around town before the parade.
Thousands of people attend this event, so get there early to get a good spot along the parade route. We usually get there a bit before 6pm, wander around town, then find a spot near the end of the parade route where it’s not as crowded. Although it might be a little difficult to navigate the crowds with your stroller, you’ll be thankful that your kids have somewhere to sit when watching the parade curbside. You might consider carrying small kids in a hiking backpack, so they can see over the crowds. Although there are a few food stands, the lines get real long, real fast. So I recommend bringing snacks and a thermos full of hot chocolate to keep your kiddies happy.
If you’re not willing to face the crowds, most communities and neighborhoods host their own little Räbechilbi, which is a fun way to get to socialize with your Swiss neighbors. Check your local Gemeindehaus or school for information about this. Many Swiss Spielgruppen will have the kids make papermache lanterns for this parade.
In my neighborhood, the Kirchegemeindehaus hosts the turnip carving a few hours before the parade, where you can buy a turnip for one franc and they’ll drill out the middle with a special machine so you can put a candle inside. They provide all sorts of cutters to help make designs, but little kids will need lots of adult supervision with the sharp tools. You provide the candle, rope and stick to construct your lantern.
Then the neighbors meet at the local school, where they have a wagon decorated with lanterns and a marching band. The police close off the streets while the whole neighborhood walks around with their lanterns. Even if you don’t walk the whole parade route, you might be able to watch it go by from your window or corner.