Onions with Smiles, not Tears
As an American, I should have one thing on my mind today: turkey. However, I live in Switzerland, and they don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving here. Besides, if I have one thing on my mind, it’s onions.
I don’t like raw onions. Neither does my father. As for my mother, she hates onions in all forms. Yet the three of us took an hour train from Zürich a few days ago to attend Bern’s annual Zibelemärit, the city’s famous Onion Market. Think of the largest outdoor market you have ever been to – perhaps even larger than that – and now picture every single stand selling the same thing: onions. Onions by the pound, onions to hang on your wall, onions in the shape of a basket or wreath… Just raw onions – small, medium, large, red and white. Ok, some garlic too. Onions dressed up and painted, disguised as all different animals, and all different professions. One of the best was Harry Potter!
Onions. And confetti. This folkloric festival has certainly evolved over the past 6 centuries, now more resembling Mardi Gras, with everyone wearing colorful plastic necklaces. It’s an excuse to throw confetti in the air, on your friends, and especially on strangers. Children go wild in the streets banging adults on the head with inflatable hammers and throwing fistfuls of colorful confetti in their faces. And what do these innocent, mature adults do to these utterly unknown children running amok? They smile and laugh; it’s Zibelemärit! Or rather, they throw confetti back at them. It’s a popular holiday when all streets are closed off in Bern’s old town, stores, offices and schools closed as well, and anything goes, really. When else can you attack strangers with plastic confetti guns? As New Yorkers, we were certainly surprised at how civilized it all remained. It was like a scene out of the movie Pleasantville, but in color, where no one ever got angry or annoyed. Just laughing it off as they picked confetti out of their ears and shook it out of their scarves too. Or chatting with friendly market vendors with enormous garlic “hats” on their heads, as I did with these fabulous gentlemen below.
But back to those onions. I now have a long branch of them hanging on my wall, many of which will be coming down to play a part in our Thanksgiving dinner tonight. We found a turkey here in Zürich, imported from France, that will be accompanied by a Swiss chestnut stuffing, sautéed wild mushrooms from the market, and a few other trimmings including my mother’s noodle pudding (some ingredients brought from New York). That will all be followed by several onion-less homemade desserts, plus a kugelhopf that we brought back from Colmar. It will be quite the international feast! Meanwhile, more on that Alsatian adventure and those kugelhopfs soon to come. We might miss New York’s Thanksgiving Parade, but we sure had our fill of confetti, with enough onions to feed all of the pilgrims.
I hope all of you who are celebrating as well have a very happy and delicious Thanksgiving !
~Zibelemärit Bern’s Famous Onion Market Held annually on the fourth Monday of November