The Turnip Lantern Festival: A Spellbinding Swiss Tradition

Every October and November, families in Zurich ditch the massive orange squash many of us associate with Halloween in favor of another root vegetable: the turnip. Turnips – or räbe in Swiss German – are the stars of the autumn season… somewhat literally. In a century-old tradition, plain purple turnips are transformed into twinkling lanterns and glowing works of art for nighttime displays. These little creations have magical powers that can charm every local kid, adult and expat, too!

When the leaves start to fall and the turnips are harvested, schools, neighborhoods, and towns in Canton Zurich host special parades for children, called Räbechilbi, which provide a sprinkle of warm cheer as the cold winds blow in. Perhaps the most famous Räbechilbi parade is in Richterswil, a small town on the western shores of Lake Zurich. On the second Saturday in November, crowds descend upon Richterswil, which goes dark save for the candle light inside thousands of hollowed turnips.

Residents of Richterswil go all out for this festival. They line doorsteps, balconies, and gardens with turnip lanterns… and it’s awesome!

Even though I never cared for them much as a kid, I’ve become a sucker for parades in recent years. I think they are so fun! And with sizable floats covered with turnip lanterns passing through the streets of Richterswil, the Räbechilbi parade did not disappoint!

And because this is a family-friendly event, children also participate in the parade. Kids as young as toddler age join the ranks, carrying their own flaming vegetables that dangle from sticks. And because this is Switzerland, that’s totally fine with everyone…

In addition to the parade, vendors sell everything from hot holiday drinks like glühwein to Swiss street food favorites like raclette. Of course, they decorate their stalls with turnip lanterns, and they even carve some to indicate their products and prices!

If you want to add the Richterswil Räbechilbi to your Swiss Must Do List, know that I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I said that “crowds descend on Richterswil.” This is a very popular event, and the streets are packed with people in puffy jackets. If you want prime parade views, consider parking yourself along the route well before the lights go out. For more practical tips on attending this particular Turnip Lantern Festival, check out this post by Moms:Tots:Zurich.

The Turnip Lantern Festival in Richterswil was one of my favorite Swiss events. While elbowing our way through the crowds at times didn’t conjure up the best emotions, I was positively spellbound by the streets aglow with that eerily enchanting candlelight. And to do this Swiss festival justice, we brought our own turnip lanterns to add two more drops of light to this magical evening.


What do you think about the Turnip Lantern Festival? Would you let your toddler march along with a live fire burning in a root vegetable? Have you ever carved a turnip? Do you want to know more about this year’s Räbechilbi? Then visit the My Switzerland page for more details. And if you want to carve your own turnip lantern, check out this YouTube video by moxiblog.

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