MAY (in Luxembourgish “Päischtmount”)
Luxembourg has a long heritage of spring customs. Well before May 1st was named International Labor Day (since 1890), Luxembourgers celebrated pagan festival of sacrifice specific to the month of May, which got later incorporated into Christian practice. In order to ward off evil spirits for example, people put consecrated palm branches on their houses and stables, sprinkled holy water in their rooms and drew crosses on their doors.
Nowadays many Luxembourgers go to the forest on May 1st to gather branches with fresh leaves and braid a “Meekranz” (May wreath). Those wreaths are hung on the front doors of people’s houses, celebrating in this way the arrival of the warm season. One famous and tasty drink assimilated with May is the “Meedrank” (May-wine). This kind of punch consists of a mixture of white wine, brandy, sugar, oranges and sweet-scented bedstraw.
On the third Sunday after Easter and during two weeks (in April or May), parishioners from the entire country, as well as from the neighboring German, Belgian and French regions go on a pilgrimage to the Cathedral “Notre-Dame” (cathedral of the Blessed Virgin) in Luxembourg-city. It is the so-called “Muttergottesoktav” (octave), a festival celebrated in honor of the Mother of God. It is indeed the major religious event of the year in Luxembourg.
This important religious festival takes place annually since the 17th century in order to venerate Virgin Mary and pilgrims visit the miraculous image of Maria Mater Jesu carved from lime wood which was transferred by Jesuits into today’s Cathedral “Notre-Dame”. Virgin Maria was actually chosen patron of the city in 1666 and later in 1678 patron of the entire country, so she could protect the people of Luxembourg from the raging plague epidemics, famine and terrible wars of these times. Therefore it is no more surprising that she received the name of Our Lady of Luxembourg, Consolatrix Afflictorum (consoler of the afflicted), Patrona Civitatis et Patriae Luxemburgensis (patroness of the city and country of Luxembourg).
Pilgrims, arriving in the suburbs of Luxembourg-city, form processions and walk together to the cathedral while praying. After the procession, most parishes also celebrate mass at “Notre-Dame”. Traditionally after such a long and tiresome procession (some pilgrims leave their hometown during the night and walk to the cathedral during hours), parishioners can enjoy some delicious beer and “Gromperekichelcher” (potato pancakes, made from grated potatoes, flour and eggs) at the yearly “Oktav-Mäertchen” (octave fair) organized at “Place Guillaume II” or as Luxembourgers call it “Knuedler”. The “Mäertchen” is a small fair-like market closely linked to the octave. If in the past, one could only buy food and drinks, as well as religious ornaments, nowadays one can also buy other souvenirs (such as culinary herbs, handmade decorations) and enjoy a ride on the carrousel.
Every year on Ascension Day nearly 20,000 believers, of which the majority are Portuguese immigrants, go on pilgrimage to the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which is located in the town of Wiltz, in the north of the country. They commemorate Virgin Mary, who appeared in 1917 to three children in the Portuguese village of Fatima. History recalls that in 1951 a group of parishioners from Wiltz, who had been hiding in the basement of their house during the Battle of the Bulge (1944-45) erected the Lady’s statue to honor their survival of the attacks. However only since 1968 hundreds of believers set out to worship Our Lady of Fatima.
With over 15% of the country’s population being Portuguese immigrants, it is understandable that the procession to Our Lady of Fatima has increasingly acquired an important role in Luxembourg’s religious life. Indeed the celebration of Our Lady of Fatima is part of one of the biggest religious events in Luxembourg. Just like the “Muttergottesoktav”, the pilgrimage to Fatima has become a kind of folk festival where one can meet family and friends, and enjoy traditional food. Even though most of the pilgrims belong to the Portuguese community, this celebration has rapidly evolved into an intercultural festival.
Another traditional festival (although not from Christian but rather pagan origin) taking place in the northern part of the Grand-Duchy is the “Geenzefest” (festival of the genista).
Blooming in spring, this yellow-flowered shrub is a typical Luxembourgish plant, which can be seen throughout the entire country’s landscape. However it is most abundant to be found in the northern part of the country, called “Éislek“ (Oesling). That is why since 1949, each year on Whit Monday, the town of Wiltz hosts a parade with floats decorated in those yellow flowering plants.
Music bands and folkloric groups precede the colorful and enchanting parade, which ends with the flowering float of the Genista Queen, accompanied by her six ladies of honor. Besides the parade, the “Geenzefest” also offers an extensive array of other activities, such as exhibitions, concerts, dances and a flea market, making it thus an ideal choice for a family trip and attracting about 10,000 visitors each year.