Buergbrennen is a celebration which takes place on the first Sunday in Lent in Luxembourg and surrounding areas. It is centred around a large bonfire and based on old traditions representing the end of winter and the coming of spring.
The name derives from the word ‘buerg’ or ‘burg’ from the Latin ‘burere’ – to burn. The burning of fires is supposed to have originated with pagan feasts in connection with the spring solstice. The current tradition of holding it on the first Sunday of Lent is therefore probably an approximation based on the Christian calendar. While the tradition is waning in France, Belgium and Germany, Luxembourg has revived the Buergbrennen festivities since the 1930s, with some 75% of villages celebrating the occasion.
Originally the bonfire seems simply to have consisted of a heap of wood and straw but with the passing of time, a central pillar of tree branches was introduced. A crosspiece was later attached near the top of the pillar, giving it the appearance of a cross.
The Buergbrennen was at one time celebrated only by the men in the village, with women only being admitted under exceptional circumstances. The most recently married men played a special role, with the honour of lighting the fire bestowed on the last man to have wed. The newly-weds also had the responsibility of collecting wood for the fire or paying others to assist in the work.
At the end of the festivities, they were expected to entertain those taking part, either at home or in local inns. The tradition was beginning to die out in the 19th century because of the high costs involved but in the 20th century, local authorities revived the tradition, taking over responsibility for the arrangements and the costs involved.
These days, local authorities or youth organisations usually make the arrangements for the Buergbrennen. They collect wood – often old Christmas trees – from the inhabitants and make the buerg or bonfire, usually on the top of a neighbouring hill and clad with hay to ensure rapid burning. There is often a cross rising high above the centre of the fire. Torchlight processions to the bonfire often take place and there are stands for food and drink present also. Furthermore, with safety firmly in mind, firemen are ever present to ensure against accidents.
The dancing procession of Echternach is an annual Roman Catholic dancing procession held in the city of Echternach in Eastern Luxembourg. Echternach’s is the last traditional dancing procession in Europe. The procession is held every Whit Tuesday around the streets of Echternach. It honours Willibrord – the Patron Saint of Luxembourg – who established the Abbey of Echternach. The city has developed a strong tourism industry centred around this lively procession, which draws many thousands of tourists and pilgrims from around the world.
The event begins in the morning at the bridge over the River Sauer with a sermon delivered by the parish priest (formerly by the abbot of the monastery). The procession moves through the streets of the town towards the basilica while bands play the “Sprangprozessioùn” tune – a traditional melody handed down through the centuries. Pilgrims, in rows of four or five abreast and holding the ends of white handkerchiefs, dance and jump from left to right and thus slowly move forward.
Given the sizeable numbers of pilgrims attending, it is well after midday before the last of the dancers has reached the church. A large number of priests, nuns and monks also accompany the procession, with several bishops sometimes in attendance as well.
On arrival at the church, the dance continues past the tomb of Saint Willibrord, which stands in the crypt beneath the high altar. Litanies and prayers in the Saint’s honour are recited and the whole event concludes with a benediction of the sacrament.
The Emaischen festival is celebrated every Easter Monday in the village of Nospelt in Southern Luxembourg as well as in the Fish Market in the City of Luxembourg. Small earthenware whistles shaped like birds and known as ‘peckvillercher’ are a special feature of the event.
Traditionally they were exchanged between lovers but today are popular with all those taking part in the celebrations. Nospelt used to be a village of potters who would make the little birds from the small amounts of clay left over at the end of each day. With a wide range of attractions and games, Emaischen is particularly popular with children. There is also folk-dancing in the streets and plenty to eat and drink.
The origins of the festival are unclear but there may be a connection with the Biblical reference to a potter in the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 18. In any case, there seem to have been several breaks in the tradition. Today’s Nospelt festival only goes back to 1957 when the potters once again began making the whistles, with a new design each year. The celebrations in Luxembourg’s old town were revived in 1937 by Jean Peters, a ceramic artist from Reckental, who started making whistles from the red clay of Nospelt.
The Octave is one of Luxembourg’s major annual religious celebrations, starting on the third Sunday after Easter and closing with the Octave Procession on the fifth Sunday after Easter. It honours Our Lady of Luxembourg, Maria Mater Jesu, Consolatrix Afflictorum, Patrona Civitatis et Patriae Luxemburgensis.