Swiss Life

What is the Swiss tradition of Räbelichtli? (updated)

Come mid-November in the german-speaking part of Switzerland you may stumble upon a parade of children grasping a carved turnip lantern in their glove-covered hands. For when the last autumn leaves fall, and the sun sets before dinner time, it is time for the annual tradition of Räbelichtli.


“Räbe” (or rüben in high-german) meaning turnip and “lichtli” small light, and together they make a turnip lantern, aka a Räbelichtli. And to make one all you need is a turnip (the more pink skin, the better), some carving tools, a candle (or LED light) and some string.

Start by cutting off the lid of the top of the turnip (this can become a lid) and then begin to carve gently into its skin. You can use a pointy knife or small cookie cutters to create a design. But be careful, you don’t want to carve through like a Halloween Jack-o-lantern, as the inner flesh of the turnip will turn translucent when lite up from inside. Once your pattern is ready, it’s time to dig out the turnip flesh, using a spoon, melon baller or small ice cream scoop. Again be careful not to break through the turnip and leave a good couple of cm wall.

Now either make a roof for your lantern using the turnip top and some string, not forgetting a little candle or poke a large stick candle through the bottom for the most straightforward hold.

When is the Räbelichtli parade, and how does it work?

Depending on the village, the räbelichtli Umzug (or parade) will fall close to St. Martin’s day on November 10th. Still, any evening around mid-November will do (ours is always the third Thursday in November).

When it is time, the street lights will turn off, the local roads will be blocked, and the excited school children will illuminate the dark, usually busy streets with their creative lanterns. There are lots of variations depending upon the village, with some parades starting with bells and whips, others have drums, others have kids singing “räbelichtli” songs. But almost all finish with some sort of snack and a warm drink.

THE Räbelichtli parade in the region

The parade in the town of Richterswil is famous the country over and is a lot larger than what you will find in the average village. Since 1908 the local transport association has created floats made out of turnips, mainly pushed by adults, while children carry their own. It’s a huge festival, beginning already at 3 pm, with the main event starting punctually at 6.30 pm. The 6th graders from Richterswil even sell ready-carved turnips, if you haven’t brought your own.

Our family räbelichtli experience

We always stick to our own village’s small parade, where the local playgroup, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders parade with their lanterns. For us, it is the marking of the end of autumn and the beginning of the festive season of December. After räbelichtlit, I allow myself to think of Christmas gifts, fairy lights and mulled wine. I must admit though after 14 years of experience, my carving skills are still very average. If you need a little inspiration, check out my Räbelichtli board over on Pinterest. YouTube is also your friend!

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