November 26th, 2012

One of my favorite Bernese traditions is the Zibelemärit, or onion market, held every year on the fourth Monday of November. It opens at 5 a.m., but I’ve never managed to be there in the early morning hours, not even when we lived in the city and it was just a short walk away. The Zibelemärit dates back several hundred years – up to six hundred years, depending on which story about the origins of the Zibelemärit you believe. The version I like, which happens to be the one that probably isn’t true, is that the tradition dates back to the years following the fire of 1405, which destroyed much of Bern. The story goes that the good people of Freiburg assisted in both fighting the fire and rebuilding the city, and as thanks the farmers of Freiburg were granted the right to sell their produce in the markets of Bern during the month of November. In November, you’d have a lot of root vegetables like onions laying about, wouldn’t you? And so began the Zibelemärit. (The other version, the one that’s probably historically accurate, is that the market is simply an outgrowth of the festivals surrounding the feast of St. Martin. I like the legend better.)

And if you’re wondering how big a market devoted to onions can be, I can tell you this: a total of 627 stands this year, 205 of which offered solely onions, other vegetables, or fruit. 145 stands offered food and drink, ranging from the traditional Zibelechueche (onion quiche), Chäsecheuche (cheese quiche, and one of my favorite Swiss words thought not one of my favorite Swiss foods), and Glühwein (hot spiced wine) to “American Style Hotdogs” (no, I didn’t stop to try one). The other 277 stands sold everything from vegetable slicers to traditional ceramics to clothes to cheap plastic trinkets.

Now early in the morning, apparently, plain onions are sold in bulk by farmers to restauranteurs, but the glory of Zibelemärit are the Zwiebelzöpfe, or braided onions:

Stand after stand of lovely Zwiebelzöpfe:

The early evening news stories I’ve seen from today suggest 58 TONS of onions were sold at Zibelemärit this year. A few of them, perhaps, in Nuggi (pacifier) form:

With all those onions around, somebody at some point decided people might need some mints, so you can find these colorful strings of candy everywhere:

People buy these candy strings and then wear them around their necks. Traditionally they were always mint flavored regardless of the color of the wrapping (all those onions, you know), but now there are stands that sell the candy in other flavors as well: orange flavored in the orange cellophane, lemon flavored in the yellow, and so on. I prefer the traditional mint, but this year the boys wanted orange and lemon flavored for their strings.

Then there is the confetti fighting, and the hitting of people on the head with foam hammers, which is, I’m sure, a much younger tradition than the Zibelemärit itself. Although my husband participated in the confetti and hammer madness as a child, so it’s not brand new. It was rainy today, which made for some soggy dirty piles of confetti on the streets but sometimes it also almost looked pretty.

One Response to “Zibelemärit”

  1. Andrea Beltran on November 27, 2012 9:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing this experience with me! I love all of your photographs!

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