Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, , at sacred-texts.com
NEITJORSDAG (New Year's Day) January 1
New Year's Day is a time for exchanging greetings and congratulations and visiting family and friends. Parents and relatives customarily give children gifts of money on the first day of the year.
LICHTMESDAG (Candlemas), in Luxembourg-Ville, canton Luxembourg February 2
Candlemas, the festival commemorating the Purification of the Virgin Mary on the fortieth day after Jesus' birth and the Presentation of her Son at the Temple, gets its name from the custom of blessing candles in the churches. In Luxembourg-Ville school children carry blessed candles to the homes of shut-ins and persons too old or infirm to take their own candles to church for the customary benediction.
The boys and girls go from house to house with lighted candles attached to small spiked batons. Holding their torches high, the youthful visitors knock at doors and sing this Song of Lights:
We hope that all your life
You will see the light of sun.
Open, open, here is the light
With each child's sacred vows.
We hope that in this life
Neither mind nor soul will darken,
And that for you in heaven above
There will be everlasting light.
In return for their song the children receive such gifts as coins, nuts, apples, candies and buns.
FETTEN DONNESCHDEG (Shrove Thursday) The Thursday before the beginning of Lent
This is a great day for village children who, dressed in all sorts of fantastic costumes, go about in little bands to neighboring farms. The boys and girls sing a traditional song in which they ask for contributions.
Almost everyone prepares for the children's visit by making pan- cakes, waffles, and other good things. Farmers wives usually listen to the song, distribute their gifts, and then gaily pack the children off on their rounds. Occasionally, however, a stingy householder refuses to treat. In the second verse of their ditty the children warn that such unsympathetic persons will be "like a sack of nuts":
Then you'll have good health throughout the year.
If you don't give anything, you'll slip on the ice;
If you don't give anything at all,
You'll be like a sack of nuts!
BRETZELSONNDEG (Pretzel Sunday) Fourth Sunday in Lent
On Bretzelsonndeg, or Pretzel Sunday, it is customary for boys to give their sweethearts beautifully decorated cakes in pretzel form.
If a girl likes the boy and wishes to encourage his attentions she gives him a decorated egg on Easter Sunday and walks with him in the park. When the pretzel cake is big, the girl reciprocates with a large egg, possibly a beautifully adorned chocolate creation, filled with bonbons. If the cake is small, the egg, also, is small.
At Leap Year the pretzel custom is reversed, the girls giving cakes to the boys on Bretzelsonndeg and the boys giving the girls eggs at Easter. Not only boys and girls, but married couples as well, participate in the exchange of cakes and eggs.
PELLEMSONNDEG (Palm Sunday) The Sunday preceding Easter
Children carry "palms" to church to be blessed by the priest. Following their consecration, the children, with palms aloft, form in a procession commemorating the joyous multitude which accompanied Jesus on his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.
Boys and girls precede a group of priests, church dignitaries and choir boys who hold up a large crucifix, decorated with blessed palms. The procession goes about the church, first inside, then without, chanting in Latin the following hymn:
Thou art King of Israel,
Glorious offspring of David,
O blessed King, who cometh in the name of the Lord.
CHARFREUDEG (Good Friday) The Friday preceding Easter
Charfreudeg, or Good Friday, commemorates Christ's crucifixion and is a day of gloom. "The bells have flown to Rome for confession," is a popular saying which explains why all church bells are silent from Good Friday until Easter. School boys, taking over the function of the bells, go through the streets calling people to worship by shaking wooden rattles which make a melancholy sound.
On Good Friday all churches are draped in black and the prevalent atmosphere is one of sadness and solemnity.
CHARSAMSDEG (Holy Saturday) The Saturday preceding Easter
The ceremony of blessing water and fire precedes Midnight Mass. In the evening priests and parishioners, holding unlighted wax candles, gather before the darkened church. There the priest blesses the water to be used for baptism. He also blesses an altar fire from which he lights his candle. The second candle is lighted from the first, the third from the second and so on, until every candle is kindled. Then the entire congregation enters the church, which suddenly is illuminated with hundreds of lights.
The service continues with the singing of the Gloria at midnight, the traditional hour of Our Lord's resurrection. The organ rolls forth, church bells peal joyously and Easter is announced in every town and village.
On Holy Saturday it is customary for choir boys to visit from house to house. Everyone receives them warmly and gives presents of eggs and coins. The boys eat the eggs during the Easter holiday. The money is pooled and used to defray the expenses for an excursion with the priest to some place of special beauty or historic interest.
O'SCHTERSONNDEG (Easter Sunday)
Easter Sunday is a happy occasion for everyone, but particularly for small children. They rise at dawn and search the gardens for the beautiful eggs which, parents say, are left at night by the Easter Bunny. The boys and girls, little baskets on arms, look behind stones, beneath bushes, among the tall grasses. The children's efforts are usually richly rewarded, for the empty baskets soon are filled with gaily colored dyed eggs, as well as with many of the marvelously decorated sugar and chocolate eggs for which Luxembourg is famous.
For the young girls who received breizelen, or pretzel cakes, from admirers on Bretzelsonndeg, Easter is no less exciting than for their younger brothers and sisters. Even the girl who was afraid of expressing her real sentiments earlier, now quite properly may give the boy of her choice an elaborately decorated egg shaped container, which is filled with all kinds of delectable sweets.
Dessert for the family Easter dinner usually is a cake, or sometimes an ice, made in a Pascal lamb mold.
OCTAVE (Octave of Our Lady, Consoler of the Afflicted), in Luxembourg-Ville, canton Luxembourg Fifth Sunday after Easter, for 8 to 15 days
The Octave of Notre Dame la Consolatrice des Affliges, observed in Luxembourg the fifth Sunday after Easter and from eight to fifteen days following, is the nation's most outstanding religious festival. Pilgrims from all parts of the Grand Duchy pour into the capital to honor Mary, the Consolatrice, to thank her for past protection and to pray for her help in the future. On September 26, 1666, Luxembourg-Ville's Municipal Council proclaimed the Blessed Virgin patroness of the capital. Twelve years later the entire nation was placed under her benign care.
"There are many, many legends about our Virgin," declared one informant, referring to the ancient image which annually is taken from the cathedral and carried through the streets in solemn procession.
According to one tradition several Jesuit students discovered the image in 1624, in the hollow of an oak, outside the then walled city. The statue was reverently taken to the Jesuit college church (which later became the cathedral) and placed on the altar. The same night the figure vanished mysteriously through locked doors and later was discovered in the oak. A second time the same thing occured. Only then did the Church Fathers realize the Virgin wished to remain outside the fortress walls.
In 1625, a tiny chapel was built for the image. During the following year when pestilence claimed victims throughout the countryside, people thought many remarkable cures were wrought by the Consolatrice whose shrine became a pilgrimage center.
With the French Revolution the chapel was destroyed; but the Virgin's image, believed to have been miraculously saved from destruction, was eventually installed in its present position of honor on the cathedral's main altar.
In 1666, when Luxembourg-Ville was dedicated to the patronage of Mary the Consolatrice, the keys of the city were entrusted to the statue. Tradition says that when Napoleon I made his triumphal entrance into the fortress after the Revolution, a little white-frocked girl officially presented him with the keys on a crimson cushion. "Take them back," Napoleon commanded. "They are in good hands." Since then, according to the Letzebuerger, or inhabitants of Luxembourg, the keys never have left the Consolatrice's hands.
"Some people wonder why our Virgin does not perform miracles such as curing a sick arm or head," confided a woman in attempting to explain the deep veneration everyone feels toward the patroness. "She does not do outward healing. She performs miracles within. The Consolatrice heals the spirit!"
"The great procession in Our Lady's honor will be Sunday," she continued. "Rain or shine, it will be then. Myself, I think it will rain," she said, gloomily scrutinizing the sky, "but the procession will go on just the same. The whole city will be decorated with young fir trees and flowers. The Grand Duchess and her family will be there. All the people will come with banners, whether it rains or not. It will be a great sight, Madame,--much better, of course, if it does not rain.
"There is a story that one year it rained and nobody attended. The rain was so bad nobody ventured out. But people said our Virgin went out alone. She went through all the city streets by herself. Everybody knows this is the truth. Next day they found raindrops on her robe."
Sunday was bright and clear, despite predictions to the contrary. Luxembourg-Ville presented an enchanting appearance, with pots of blooming flowers at every window and colorful religious banners hung across streets. Fir trees marked the procession route. Four outdoor altars, decorated with flowers, candles and banners awaited administration of the Sacrament.
Each altar was unique. One displayed a white-robed image of the Consolatrice, against a background of palms and firs. White hydrangeas were massed at the feet. Overhead fluttered long graceful pennants of yellow, blue, and white.
By three o'clock the procession was forming before the closed cathedral doors. The various counties all had their own brass bands and handsome standards. Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, schools and seminaries, religious orders, men's and women's church groups and societies marched past in endless succession. Then, all at once, the cathedral doors swung open. Out tripped a bewitching procession of very small children, costumed as priests and bishops, scarlet-robed cardinals, and choir boys in red gowns and lace-edged surplices. One little boy, representing John the Baptist, wore knitted imitation fur over one shoulder, and clutched a plump toy lamb.
Many little girls had pale pink or blue frocks and matching eiderdown wings attached at the shoulders. "They represent angels of heaven in their innocence," said one informant. Some of the children, in long white satin or tulle gowns, wore gold circlets and carried sprays of gilded flowers.
The costumed children, scattering rose petals as they marched, preceded the first communicants. The little eight-year-old girls looked like brides, in long white dresses and filmy veils. The small boys wore black suits with fringed white satin arm bows.
In the hush that followed the appearance of the "Children of Mary," as the first communicants are called, the image of the Consolatrice des Affliges was carried out from the cathedral beneath a sumptuous canopy. The image of the Virgin was arrayed in dark blue velvet, embroidered with gold and jewels. A priceless lace veil fell from the crowned head to the hem of the gown. In one arm was the Infant; in the other a sceptre. From the wrist hung a rosary, a golden heart, and the symbolic key of Luxembourg-Ville.
Following the Consolatrice walked high ranking church dignitaries in gorgeous vestments of blue, white, crimson and gold; the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, accompanied by the Prince and members of the Grand Ducal family; representatives of the Chamber of Deputies and other government officials. Last of all the Blessed Sacrament, displayed in a sun-rayed monstrance of gleaming gold, was borne from the cathedral under a richly embroidered canopy.
SPRANGPROZESSIO'N (Dancing Procession), in Echternach, canton Echternach Whit Tuesday or Pentecost Tuesday
Thousands of pilgrims from many parts of the world annually visit Echternach on Whit Tuesday, for the Sprangprozessio'n, or Dancing Procession of Saint Willibrord, patron of the town and founder of its abbey. Tradition says that for over six hundred years people have danced the same strange rhythm--five steps forward, three steps back--toward the shrine of the seventh-century Northumbrian saint who reputedly Christianized Luxembourg.
On Whit Tuesday I hurried toward the abbey courtyard before the basilica bells struck nine. In the cobble-stoned marketplace the Friture Henriette was heaping up piles of sausages and mountains of round white rolls. Already the air was heavy with the aroma of frying fish and potatoes. Managers of recently installed merry-go-rounds, dodgem cars and shooting galleries were busily polishing brass and adding last minute touches, for the kermesse, or fair, following the procession, would last far into the night. Close to the basilica vendors were arranging religious souvenirs and votive candles on little stands and chatting with arriving, tourists.
The courtyard was rapidly filling. Autobuses discharged orderly crowds of pilgrims. There were youth groups, proudly carrying their banners; tall, bearded Peres Blancs from Marienthal Monastery, with gracefully draped white robes and long black rosaries; white-bloused girls; and boys in white shirts with handkerchiefs knotted about heads, who were ready to dance in the procession. Frequently priests and villagers from widely separated parishes stopped for handclasps and greetings, for the annual Spraizgprozessio'n always unites friends from distant places.
As the crowd thickened, I squeezed in near the foot of the graceful stairway which leads, on either side, to the iron grilled tribune overlooking the abbey yard. There the aged Bishop of Luxembourg sat--a benevolent and commanding figure in tall miter and magnificent vestments. Beside me an old man in broad-brimmed black hat, adorned with a peacock feather, grasped a stout cane in tremulous, knotted fingers. A young priest, pale and gentle faced, stood reading from a breviary with purple, green and red markers. He and his little band, which included both aged and infirm, had come far, people said. The Sunday before they had started on foot from Prum, "a village eighty kilometers away that once was Luxembourg territory, but now is German." Some of the women sat on little stools, heads bowed, lips moving, as they slipped rosary beads through calloused, toil-worn fingers.
Overhead swallows screamed and circled against the blue May sky. In the courtyard below a deep hush fell as gendarmes made way for the approaching religious procession. Archbishops, abbots and other churchmen, in vestments of blue, orange, and scarlet, slowly mounted the stairs and ranged themselves near the bishop. White-robed acolytes carried Saint Willibrord's reliquary, surmounted by a blue and white enamel cross. A cerise-robed priest stood motionless on the steps, holding a red-and-orange pagoda-shaped canopy.
The Luxembourg Bishop spoke clearly and movingly. He welcomed pilgrims and visitors and reminded them of the life and deeds of the Anglo-Saxon Willibrord, who came to Echternach thirteen centuries ago, bringing Christianity for the country and help for the sick.
The brief, impressive sermon ended, the crowd rapidly shifted. Thousands of procession participants took their places in the abbey grounds; thousands of spectators lined the streets and market place, or stationed themselves at windows and balconies facing the line of march.
Slowly the procession began to move. Heavy church banners, worked in gold thread and rich silks, swayed as the bearers marched. Upheld crosses glinted in the bright sunlight. A churchman in tall miter and gold lined cope raised his hand in benediction. Priests in black cassocks and pleated surplices, edged with precious lace, chanted in deep melodious voices the Litany of Saint Willibrord, "founder of churches, . . . destroyer of idols. . . . father of the poor." Hundreds of voices along the line caught up the words, which were almost drowned at times by the raucous brass bands and rasping violins preceding the different pilgrim groups. For hours the same tune was repeated until Echternach's narrow winding streets echoed and throbbed with the monotonous rhythm.
Eight or ten abreast the perspiring dancers came--jumping, singing--either holding hands or knotted handkerchief ends, in order to keep their lines. First came the weary pilgrims from Prum and Eifel, led by their priests in short black jackets; then delegations from Aachen followed by some twenty-five groups from Beaufort, Berdorf, Wasserbillig, Ettelbruck and other communities throughout the country. Each parish had its own priests, standards, bands, and organized youth, church, or welfare groups.
Among the participants were elderly black-clad women and old men, such as one I saw, in suspenders and blue cotton shirt, who resolutely jumped in solo performance. Mothers danced with babies in arms, or sometimes alone, for children too ill to attend; old women danced for ailing husbands. There were plenty of rosy-cheeked boys and girls who had learned the traditional steps in school and danced with joy and precision. There were also sick children who sought miraculous help. For centuries the people of Echternach have danced thus to Saint Willibrord to invoke their patron's blessing in cures of epilepsy, "the falling sickness," and other ills.
The Sprangprozessio'n is deeply moving. As one man said, "Here you see rich and poor, young and old, Letzebuerger, French, Germans, Belgians. Today they are one. All come for the same purpose."
By one o'clock the procession had danced its slow tortuous way through the market place, past the Denzelt, or Town Hall, on to the basilica, for the Pontifical Mass and Te Deum. Finally the pilgrims knelt in the crypt before Saint Willibrord's marble sarcophagus, more beautiful than usual today, with hundreds of lighted candles and massed pink and white hydrancreas. Suppliants handed up worn breviaries and votive tapers to be blessed at the tomb, and drew water from the Saint's well nearby; for faith is strong that Willibrord, "consoler of the afflicted," will ever heed his people's prayers.
The origin of the Sprangprozessio'n is the subject of much speculation. The dance melody, according to one Echternach scholar, probably dates back to the fourteenth century, although the tune was not mentioned in writing until about 1420, by a monk of Treves. The music, which is known in the Moselle and Rhine valleys, as well as in the Eifel, once accompanied these old words:
Echternach people whimsically explain the origin of the Dancing Procession by the legend of a Crusader, who set out from their town for the Holy Land. The man was accompanied by his wife, who died during the arduous journey. Several years later the Crusader returned to Echternach, to find that his wife's greedy relations had appropriated his lands and branded him a murderer.
The execution date was set for a Whit Tuesday. The condemned man was led to the gallows outside the town, accompanied by the executioner, town officials and taunting, jeering citizens. Under his arm the Crusader carried his beloved violin. Standing on the sca-ffold above the scoffing crowd, he asked permission to play one final tune on his instrument.
Tucking the violin beneath his chin, the Crusader played a simple polka melody. Over and over he played it until the haunting rhythm hypnotized the bloodthirsty mob. The executioner began to dance; then the mayor and town councilmen. The priest joined in finally all the people. Nothing could stop their frenzied steps. Even stray cats and dogs started to jump up and down in mad abandon.
The exhausted crowd begged for mercy, but the condemned man played on. Finally he descended the scaffold steps. Nobody tried to stop him. Still playing the same hypnotic air, he walked through the dancing crowd and disappeared in the adjoining forest. The citizens of Echternach continued to dance, unable to stop.
The tale has many variations. One is that the accused man was pardoned. Another is that Willibrord interceded for his people, thus saving them from dancing to death. Still another tradition is that, throughout the centuries, Echternach's citizens have held the annual Dancing Procession as penance for unjust condemnation of an innocent man.
The curious movements of the dance suggest a theory that they indicate either epilepsy, "the falling sickness," or Saint Vitus' dance,--both diseases Saint Willibrord was thought to miraculously heal. Yet another belief is that the dance commemorates Saint Willibrord's cure of cattle which, in the eighth century, were dying by hundreds of a mysterious distemper. The people beseeched their patron's help. When they finally combined their prayers with ritualistic dancing to the saint's tomb, the epidemic ceased and the cattle became well.
MUTTERGOTTESPROZESSIO'N OP D' BILDCHEN (Procession to Our Lady of Bildchen), in Vianden, Canton Vianden The Sunday following the Feast of Assumption
Each year on the Sunday following August 15, the Feast of Assumption, a pilgrimage is made to the little white spired chapel of Bildchen. The small sanctuary stands high above the river Our on a densely tree-covered hillside, midway between Bievels and Vianden. The Chapelle du Bildchen, as it is called, is a shrine for a statue of the Virgin which, legend says, two little goatherds discovered nearly a thousand years ago in these same wooded hills.
Annually the statue is removed from the chapel and carried in stately procession along the forest path, to Vianden's parish church. There the image remains until the Sunday after the Octave, when it is again returned to the woodland sanctuary.
The story of the Virgin of Bildchen has been recounted with many variations during the centuries, but probably the most current version is this:
On the first of May, in the year 994, two goatherds were gathering firewood on the hillside where the chapel now stands. While searching for fuel one of the boys found a little wooden statue of the Virgin in the crotch of an old oak tree. He tossed the statue on the fire. Instead of burning, the wood became blindingly bright. Thoroughly frightened, the boys ran back to Vianden and related what they had seen.
Next day they returned to the scene of their adventure, accompanied by a priest. The Virgin, no longer in the firebed, was back in the tree. Awed, and convinced that the image possessed miraculous powers, the priest and children took it to the Vianden parish church. Next day the statue had disappeared and, as before, was found in the tree. After the same thing had occured several times, people realized that the Virgin wished her statue to remain where found. Before long it became the object of veneration by pilgrims throughout the land.
Years passed and the old oak died. The image was placed in the rocks until 1848, when the present shrine was built on the supposed site of the tree. The small white chapel is simple in the extreme. The Virgin's statue and a few fresh flowers stand on an altar from Vianden's parish church. Votive candles burn brightly beside the altar rail, for pilgrims seek the shrine not only in August, but at all times of the year.
A tablet above the chapel door bears the inscription: Profer lumen caecis, pelle mala nostra. "Give light to the blind; banish our ills." For centuries the blind and those afflicted with eye diseases and illness have sought aid of Our Lady of Bildchen. Along the woodland path from Viaden to the shrine are seven altars, depicting seven episodes in the life of Christ. At these altars the faithful pray and refresh the spirit with birdsong and sylvan beauty. A spring gushes from rocks close to the chapel. Here many pause to bathe their eyes in the clear waters, which are thought to possess curative powers.
SAINT HAUPERT (Saint Hubert) November 3
Many Luxembourg churches are dedicated to Saint Hubert, eighth-century "Apostle of the Ardennes" and patron of hunters and the chase. On the saint's anniversary huntsmen attend High Mass in honor of their protector. When leaving church they sound a blast on their horns, to indicate a minute of silent prayer. People say that even the dogs, which are kept outside during Mass, heed the silent moment when their masters pray for preservation from harm.
The religious service over, hunters and dogs joyously start for the chase. The traditional Saint Hubert's day outdoor meal is hot green pea soup, garnished with sausages and lean bacon.
NEKLOSDAG (Saint Nicholas' Day) December 6
The Festival of Saint Nicholas, patron of children, is anticipated by boys and girls for months and weeks ahead. The Sunday preceding the festival Saint Nicholas makes official entry into towns and villages throughout Luxembourg.
At Echternach, where the ceremony is typical of other places, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat on the river Sure. The saint wears a red silk robe and tall miter and in white-gloved hands he carries a golden cross. He has a long gray beard and his bright eyes twinkle mischievously at boys and girls from behind gleaming spectacles. The genial bishop is accompanied by Hoesecker, a character children regard with some apprehension, since he carries on his back a large bundle of willow switches.
The mayor, aldermen, and other officials meet Saint Nicholas and Hoesecker at the quay, with a horse-drawn carriage, decorated with firs. The distinguished guests are escorted through the town in gay procession, followed by hundreds of excited school children. The boys and girls sing traditional songs to their beloved patron, to musical accompaniment by the town's brass band. One favorite song implores Saint Nicholas to leave plenty of bonbons:
O, good Saint Nicholas, patron of school children, Bring me bonbons to put in my little basket. I want to be as good as a little lamb, To learn my lessons, so I shall receive bonbons! O, good Saint Nicholas, O, good, O, good Saint Nicholas.
At last the procession enters the marketplace. Saint Nicholas, with Hoesecker at his side, stations himself beneath the arched Gothic portico of the picturesque Denzelt, or Town Hall, which juts out into the cobbled square. Behind the saint are big boxes of gifts for the children, who are now excitedly hopping and jumping in anticipation of the moment of distribution.
The affair is perfectly organized. There is no confusion, no hitch in plans. The band plays joyous Christmas airs. The children start filing past Saint Nicholas and his assistants. First come mothers with infants in arms, then the larger children, up to twelve years old. Each child receives a generous-sized paper bag containing apples, nuts, delicious little cakes and sugar confections. The boys and girls squeal with delight; from time to time, however, they shrink back in fear as Hoesecker advances threateningly and brandishes a willow switch, to warn of the punishment awaiting disobedient and slothful children.
Excitement is far from over when Saint Nicholas and Hoesecker finally return to their boat on the Sure and depart for another town. At dawn of December 6, the saint's real anniversary, youngsters in every home rush into the dining room, to discover the toys and toothsome sweets left for them by their beloved patron.
CHRESHDAGOVEND (Christmas Eve) December 24
Christmas Eve home ceremonies center about the tree, decorated with glittering colored balls and wax candles, which usually is displayed in the "best" room. Even more important than the tree is the traditional Nativity, which is placed beneath the branches. These miniature representations of the crib, with the Infant Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and Wise Men, often have very old carved wooden figures which have been handed down from generation to generation and added to from year to year.
About seven in the evening the Christmas tree candles are lighted and the family enters the room singing carols. An elaborate cold buffet supper, served with tea, wine or liqueurs, follows the enjoyment of tree and Nativity and the distribution of gifts. Children play with their presents and adults amuse themselves with songs and conversation until time for Midnight Mass.
After Mass the family returns to a traditional supper of black pudding and roasted sausages, served with white cabbage and boiled potatoes and accompanied by wine or beer. Christmas Day festivities, aside from church services, rarely begin until noon.