Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

The Swiss have given us fine chocolates, exquisite cheeses, secret banking, precision timepieces, and pocketknives bristling with saws, pliers, tweezers, toothpicks, corkscrews, awls, and scissors.

But these advancements pale in comparison to exploding snowmen, and I say we rectify the situation, East Tennessee style.

We need to do it quickly, too, because winter’s on the run and spring is quickly approaching. When explosives are involved, pinpoint timing is crucial.

I hold in my hands a report from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation describing the “Sechselauten” festival in Zurich. This celebration is held every year to “drive out persistent winter and welcome spring.”

I quote details from the dispatch: “The festivities culminate at the stroke of 6 p.m., when a three-meter-high effigy of a snowman atop a pyre is set on fire. It usually takes only 11 minutes for the explosive-laden head to blow off, much to the delight of tens of thousands of onlookers. Legend has it that the quicker the head bursts apart, the better the summer will be.”

Now that, children, is the way to change seasons!

Here in America, we’ve got this ho-hum groundhog custom that occurs weeks before spring. A bunch of dreary old men in top hats stand around the entrance to a whistle pig’s burrow, patiently waiting to see if the animal casts a shadow when it emerges.


No wonder the groundhog looks and acts grouchy. If I got shaken out of deep slumber with dozens of TV cameras stuck in my nose, I’d be testy, too.

But in Switzerland, they celebrate with a bang. And I propose we do the same.

Not with a snowman, though.

In the first place, that would infringe on Zurich’s idea. Expanding on someone else’s civic fun is one thing; outright copycatting crosses the line.

In the second place, East Tennessee isn’t textbook snow country. In a typical winter, we get just enough white stuff to give folks the experience of building one snowman, not to mention the “joy” of slip-sliding toward a guardrail as we trek to and from the office. But Montana and Maine, we ain’t.

Thus, for a highfalutin hillbilly Sechselauten, we might want to detonate an old station wagon, a dumpster, a surplus Army vehicle, or maybe a huge pumpkin grown the previous summer and preserved for this sacred ceremony.

Or we could go whole hog and blow some derelict building or bridge to smithereens. That never fails to make the 11 o’clock news.

Frankly, the “explodee” isn’t that important. What matters is that it goes BOOM! on command. The more noise, pyrotechnics and smoke, the better.

And none of this 10-9-8-7-6 business, either. Start the countdown at, say, 24 minutes, 59 seconds — oh, and have scantily-clad snowbunnies give away door prizes at regular intervals.

Trust me, pardner: You advertise a late-winter civic ceremony like that, culminating in a thundering dynamite demolition, and thousands of screaming rednecks will show up to watch. What’s more, they’ll gladly pay for the privilege.

Yee-haw! That oughta put Knoxville on the high-society cultural map, fer’shure.

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at .