Bern’s Folkloric Onion Fest

It may not be within our Geneva walls, but just a couple of hours on the train to Bern and this Monday you could be walking in a garlic and onion fantasy land.

No, it’s not vampire season (though I could certainly use some more sun around here….) And I know some of you are immediately thinking, why on earthy would I want to wander around amidst garlic and onions? But maybe you are a garlic fanatic – lord knows I’ve met a few in my life – in which case, this is definitely the outing for you!

The “Zibelemarit” is an old Bernese tradition, organized each year on the 4th monday of November. They say that regional farmers from Vully and Seeland as well as the region around Bern bring in over 50 TONS of onions and garlic in their traditional weaves, though the market also offers breads, vegetables, souvenirs, and, of course, the quintessential vin chaud to keep those hands warm. Stop into any restaurant and you’ll also probably find onions everywhere on the menu, from ramequins to onion soup. So although you may be walking around in the cold, they offer plenty of ways for you to keep warm – it is no wonder that they hold this event now in November, right as fall harvests turn to chilled winters.

Who came up with this brilliant idea?

Like any traditional event, the history is a little murky. It sounds like the first one took place in 1405, after farmers from Fribourg helped the Bernese put out a fire that essentially wiped out the whole town. In thanks (ah, tis the season, is it not?) the Bernese authorities invited them to sell their onions in Berne once a year. Awwwww, how generous.

But then of course, the festival moved from date to date, until finally in 1850 (a whole effin 400 years later, mind you) that it became an annual tradition. The world will never really know, but once again, community festivals in honor of foods that make us all happy? Um, more please!

What’s to know:

Bern’s Onion Market

Monday, November 28th, 6am-6pm

Location: Bern’s Old Town, specifically between Haupt and Nebengassen streets, as well as on the Waisenhausplatz and the Federal square.


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