Féte de Bonhomme Neige

Tonight we went to the Féte de Bonhomme Neige – the Snowman Festival – with ritual burning of the snowman to mark the end of winter.

Not that there was much of a winter to speak of this year. The ski resorts of Morzine, Avoriaz, Chamonix et al were pretty much bare this year. We had a big dump of snow the first week of December which thawed not long after, then another flurry around Christmas and that has been just about it. The mountains had a bit more than we did, but from what we could see, not much. The snow cannons have certainly earned their keep this year, and it is a credit to the resort owners that they managed to keep everything running as normal, despite the lack of snow.

Perhaps this was why the village decided to mark the end of winter, by building a huge bonfire, complete with snowman effigy. This was done in the grounds of the retirement home, high on the hill above the village, enabling the village elders to take part in the celebration.

In typical organised Swiss style, the villagers enjoyed the wine, cheese and soup that the commune had supplied while the children played in the grounds of the retirement home. It has often struck me how child-friendly the Swiss are. They have a small play area in the grounds of the home so that visiting children can play while their parents visit elderly relatives. I have never seen that anywhere else – all to often parents are discouraged to bring their children.

In the shadow of the great tower, the fire brigade had built a bonfire. A quick scoosh of fire lighter, and whoooosh, up it went. To the cheers of the children who were assembled around the fire, to close for comfort for some of us expat parents. There is no fence, no safety perimeter, no ‘Elf and Safety officer. There were several firemen who waved the children back if they go too close, but at times the children were very close indeed.

As the fire grew, the children became more excited. The flames teased the snowman, first igniting his hair, then his eyebrows until he was consumed by the fire. The children whooped and hollered gleefully.

As the fire slowly burned lower, the children wandered off to explore the grounds of the retirement home until one by one they were called back by their parents to set off for home, grumbling quietly about wanting to stay just one minute more please.



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