Three times a year, custom compels Luxembourgers from the country to go on a pilgrimage to their capital: to the Octave, for a fortnight of prayer dedicated to Our Lady, Consolatrix Afflictorum; to the Revue, a satirical revue of the political year; and to the Schueberfouer, or Fouer, a funfair during several weeks.
Most holidays have developed out of the country’s religious tradition.
On St Blasius’s day (2nd February), children carrying rods tipped with little lights, called Liichtebengelcher, or some modern, sophisticated version of the same appliance, go from house to house, singing the song of St Blasius: “Léiwer Herrgottsblieschen, gëff äis Speck an Ierbessen…” and begging for treats. The custom is called liichten (lighting), and today the beggars eagerly accept handouts of sweets, although they prefer coins.
The Sunday after Shrove Tuesday is Buergsonndeg (Buerg Sunday), when a Buerg, a huge pile of straw, brushwood and logs, often topped by a cross, becomes a roaring bonfire. It is a tradition with a long, venerable past. The blaze symbolises the driving- out of winter, the beginning of spring and the triumph of warm over cold, of light over darkness.
According to legend, after the Gloria of Maundy Thursday Mass, church bells fly to Rome to receive shrift from the Pope. While the bells are away, on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday, the school children take over their duties, calling the local people to their observances by cranking loud wooden ratchets, swinging rattle- boxes and playing drums. The young racket-makers are paid in Easter eggs or the odd coin. “Dik-dik-dak, dik-dik-dak, haut as Ouschterdag” (cackle away, today is Easter day) goes the Klibberlidd, the traditional ratchet song.
On Bratzelsonndeg (Pretzel Sunday), a man gives his girlfriend or wife a pretzel, a symbol of love; at Easter, a woman offers her boyfriend or husband a praline-filled chocolate Easter egg.
On Easter Monday Many families visit one of the country’s two Éimaischen fairs, one held in the capital’s old-town quarter, in the Fëschmaart (Fish Market), the other in Nospelt, a town in Canton Capellen, in the west of the country. Food, drink and folk entertainment are important, but at both events the real focus of attention is pottery. At the Fëschmaart and in Nospelt, visitors are offered the traditional Éimaischen keepsake: the Péckvillchen, a bird-shaped earthenware "flute" which produces a sound eerily like the cry of the cuckoo.
The Octave in honour of Our Lady is the year’s principal religious event. It usually takes place during the second half of April, over a period of 14 days, when parishioners from this country and from the Eifel in Germany, the Belgian province of Luxembourg and France’s Lorraine region make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in the Luxembourg capital. The tradition began in 1666, when the council of the then province of Luxembourg chose Maria, Consolatrix Afflictorum to be the country’s patron saint, calling upon her to protect the people from the plague. The pilgrims form a procession on the outskirts of the city, then proceed on foot to the Cathedral. During the Octave, each parish and participating organisation sponsors its own Masses. After devotions in the Cathedral, pilgrims can obtain food and drink at the Octave market (Oktavsmäertchen) on Place Guillaume (Knuedler). The market has long been a part of the Octave tradition, and some stands sell religious articles and souvenirs. The Octave concludes with the festive procession which carries the statue of Mary through the capital’s streets.
Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima plays an important role in the country’s religious life, and little wonder, for approximately fourteen percent of the population of Luxembourg are Portuguese nationals. Since 1968, Her pilgrimage has taken place on Ascension Day near Wiltz, in the Oesling region.
Gënzefest (Broom festival), Wiltz
Broom is found throughout the country but nowhere in greater profusion than on the cliffs and hilltops of the Oesling region. Wiltz honours broom in its Gënzefest, held on the Monday after Whitsunday. The main attraction is the traditional parade, which celebrates broom and the customs of the old farming country.
The Echternach Sprangpressessioun forms part of an old religious tradition. It is famous far beyond the borders of Luxembourg and has an international reputation as something of an oddity. It takes place on Tuesday after Whit Sunday. The procession originated in late pagan times. A legend of the VIII century traces it to St Willibrord, the founder of the Abbey of Echternach, and to a Laange Veith, known as the "Fiddler of Echternach". According to the story, Veith went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his wife, who died during the long journey. When he returned home his relatives circulated the base rumour that she had perished by his hand. Brought before court Veith was sentenced to be hanged. When asked on the gallows whether he had a last wish, Veith asked for his fiddle and then began to play - whereupon the townspeople who had gathered to witness his execution began to dance under a compulsion which continued for as long as he played and long after Veith, still fiddling, had descended from the gallows and vanished from town. It took the prayers of the great St Willibrord, who hurried to the scene, to save the people from St Vitus’ dance, the spell put upon them by the innocent "Fiddler of Echternach". Long ago, it was believed that the Sprangpressessioun healed St Vitus’ dance (Epilepsy) and other aches and pains of men and animals. Sprangpressessioun dancers "spring": one step to the left, one to the right. The procession, composed of rows of five to seven dancers, each dancer grasping the ends of a handkerchief, moves forward slowly to the repeated strains of the trance-inducing Sprangpressessioun melody, an ancient, joyous air of Polka. The procession takes some three hours to make its way through the streets of the old abbey town, and the bands and the swaying cortege pass before the tomb of St Willibrord, who lies buried in the crypt of the Basilica. Ten thousand spectators line the streets.
Groussherzogsgebuertsdag (National Holiday)
History tells us that Luxembourg has been independent, with a dynasty of its own, for a relatively short period of time. In the XIXth century, Luxembourgers celebrated their national holiday on Kinnéksdag (King’s Day: the birthday of the Dutch king). The new country’s first real patriotic holiday was Groussherzoginsgebuertsdag (the Grand Duchess’s Birthday). Grand Duchess Charlotte who reigned from 1919 to 1964 was born on 23 January, but to take advantage of the better summer weather, her birthday celebrations were postponed by six months, to 23 June. After Grand Duke Jean ascended the throne, 23 June became the official national holiday. The festivities in the capital begin on the eve of the National Holiday with a torch-lit parade past the palace, where the people gather to cheer the royal family. Thousands then attend the Freedefeier (fireworks) launched from the Adolphe bridge. Later, the capital gets into a party mood, with entertainment on every square. The National Holiday itself starts with a Te Deum in honour of the House of Luxembourg, conducted with great pomp. After the Te Deum the Grand Duke reviews a military parade on the Avenue de la Liberté. A gun salute, fired from Fort Thüngen (Dräi Eechelen), concludes the national celebrations. Every one of the country’s 118 communes organises some form of celebration. The local church sponsors a Te Deum, the mayor addresses the assembled citizenry in a patriotic speech after which deserving members of local associations, brass bands and volunteer fire-fighting associations step forward to have a bright medal pinned to their proud chests.
In 1340 John the Blind, count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia established an eight day long cattle and flea market. Today’s fair, is normally in town for about three weeks, always around St Bartholomew’s day, on 23 August. Over the years, the market has gradually been transformed into an amusement fair, a Kiermes, because the Cathedral’s church consecration celebrations (Kiermes) coincide with the Fouerzäit (Schueberfouer time). Today, the Schueberfouer, or Fouer, as most Luxembourgers call it, has its home in the capital’s Limpertsberg district, on the Glacis ground. A word about the Hämmelsmarsch (the March of the Sheep): Early in the morning on Kiermes Day, always a Sunday, troupes of musicians, dressed in blue smocks to resemble XIXth century farmers, wander through the streets of the capital behind a shepherd and a little flock of gaily tricked-out sheep. Tradition calls for the musicians to play the Hämmelsmarsch, an old folk tune, sometimes sung, with words by the national poet Michel Lentz. The shepherd, his sheep and the musicians attend the official opening of the Fouer presided bill the city’s mayor.
Grape Festivals and Wine Festivals
These days, grapes are cultivated almost exclusively on the slopes of the Moselle. Luxembourg vintners produce seven kinds of white wine, small quantities of Rosé and several sparkling wines (Schampes). Grape festivals are usually held in October, in thanksgiving for a good grape harvest. In Grevenmacher for instance, the Queen of Grapes is borne through town in a parade with bands and music, and wine. The grape festival in Schwebsange features a town fountain that dispenses wine instead of water. Wine festivals are really village festivals, usually held in the spring, in the assembly hall of the local winery or outdoors in a large tent. Their purpose is sociability. They feature dance music, traditional food, wine (and beer). Proufdag (sampling day), Wënzerdag (vintners’ day) and Wäimaart (wine market) are aimed at "professionals". Every wine-making establishment schedules one such event during the May-June period, when it sends out invitations to taste the latest wines.
According to a legend, St Nicolas, the patron Saint of children descends from heaven on the night preceding the 6th of December, his feats, accompanied by his black servant Ruprecht (called Houseker by Luxembourgers) and a donkey laden with presents, to reward little children who have been good. Children who have misbehaved receive a Rutt, or switch. In most towns the holy man and his servant dressed in black – or rather some locals dressed up as them - go from house to house late on December 5th carrying presents to youngsters. If so, parents will have made the "arrangements". Towns and associations arrange also for the Kleeschen (the Luxembourg diminutive for St Nicolas) to make a public appearance. In this case, the local brass band will be out in force to greet the Saint when he arrives by car, train, boat or even aeroplane, and escort him to the concert hall where children are waiting to greet him with songs and speeches. The evening always culminates in a carefully organised, "heavenly" distribution of presents.
Luxembourg culinary habits combine at the same time “French quality with German quantity”. Since the European vocation of the capital city, restaurants have aromatic influences coming from all over Europe. A couple of years ago, Asiatic and Latino- American culture emerged as well. Nevertheless, the culinary motto of countless Luxembourgers still is: Without potatoes, it’s not a proper meal!
Some typical Luxembourgish dishes are:
Bouneschlupp: a soup with French beans
Judd mat Gaadebounen: neck of pork with broad beans
Stäerzelen: quenelle of saracen Kniddelen: flour dumpling Tierteg: Sauerkraut and potato purée left overs Fritür: fried fish Träipen: fried black pudding Kuddelfleck: pre-cooked, fried tripe Wëld: seasonally hunted animals
Kachkéis: soft, melted cheese
Quetschentaart: prune tart Béier: beer, Luxembourg has many breweries
Quetsch: prune liqueur
Riesling, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir, Gewürztraminer, Rivaner, Elbling, Rosé: Luxembourg’s Mosella region offers many different wines
Sources: Text: Josy Braun, Traditions and Holidays, online publication: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/tradition_fetes/index.php , as at 11/07/2007 Georges Hausemer, Culinary Luxembourg, online publication: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/gastronomie/index.php , as at 11/07/2007Pictures: Judd Mat Gaardebounen: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/gastronomie/index.php , as at 11/07/2007Kleeschen: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/tradition_fetes/index.php , as at 11/07/2007)Wine Festival in Grevenmacher: http://www.ont.lu/manif-fr-4-18.html , as at 11/0772007 Schueberfouer: http://www.ont.lu/cult-de-12-245.html , as at 11/07/2007Military Parade:http://www.armee.lu, as at 11/07/2007)Sprangpressessioun: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/tradition_fetes/index.php?pos=3 , as at 11/07/2007Geenzfest: http://www.geenzefest.lu/fr/album/5/173 , as at 11/07/2007Octave: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/tradition_fetes/index.php?pos=2 , as at 11/07/2007Eimaischen: http://www.ont.lu/cult-de-12-245.html , as at 11/07/2007Buergbrennen:http://www.ont.lu/cult-de-12-245.html, as at 11/07/2007Liichtmessdag: http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_lux/societe_tradition/tradition_fetes/index.php?pos=0 , as at 11/07/2007)