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Expat Adventures

Expat Chronicles: Halloween Turnips

by Lou Cuthbertson

In Switzerland, they take the seasons very, very seriously.

Last week, the four-year-old comes home with a turnip in his school bag. Note: not a pumpkin. That would be Halloween, and that's just not Swiss. Accompanying said turnip was a note (in German), telling us (and we know who that is) that we have to carve the turnip into a turnip lantern. The children will then go on a Räebelichtli Umzug (Turnip Lantern Parade, obviously) with all the other children and parents from school.

Apparently, we scoop out the middle and then carve beautiful patterns on the outside. Under NO circumstances are we to pierce the skin of the turnip with our intricate carvings, as the holes will make the candle blow out. (I'm not sure what kind of gale force they had forecast for the Umzug.)

Cue: Mad scrabbling in all utensil drawers for instrument fine enough to carve beautiful yet seasonal patterns into a turnip. Frenzied dash to local stationers to find a Linolmesser, which according to my dictionary is the word for "linocutter."

Of course, the local stationers was closed for lunch (of course!), so I had to make do with a potato peeler and an apple corer. Which both broke by the way. Eventually I asked the school headmaster for help. He gave me a melon baller. Turns out, this is the tool of the trade.

Anyway, the night of the Raebelichtli comes — the children have their turnip lanterns lit, they sing songs in Swiss German (which makes them sound as if they all have throat infections), parade around the village, and it's all very beautiful. And then the four-year-old trips on a loose board on the bridge over the playground stream and drops his electric torch into the swirling water below. By the crowd of people he drew with his screams, you'd think his sister had fallen in.

So what will he remember when we reminisce on our wonderful Alpine years ? The torch that fell in the stream.

Lou is an Irish expat living in Zurich, Switzerland. She travels for the food. Always the food.


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