JUNE (in Luxembourgish Broochmount)
If on Whit Monday people gather yearly at the “Geenzefest” in Wiltz, it is on Whit Tuesday (either in May or June) that Echternach, a small city in eastern Luxembourg, turns into a well-known hopping event. Since 2010, the traditional “Sprangprëssessioun” (hopping procession) is part of the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
This world-renowned event of religious origin and dating back to the 15th century gathers each year thousands of hopping pilgrims from all over Europe. They visit Saint Willibrord’s gravesite located at the basilica of Echternach. This Irish-Scottish monk, who came to Echternach in 698, founded the abbey which during centuries rose to one of the most cultural and spiritual centers of the entire region.
Whereas the first written testimonies of the “Sprangprëssessioun” date back to 1497, where the veneration of Saint Willibrord and the pilgrimage were described as a “procession of the hopping saints”, the oral legend says that in the 8th century Vitus, a violinist known as the “fiddler of Echternach” went together with his wife on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During his absence, relatives shared his possessions and upon his return he was accused of murder, because his wife had died during the pilgrimage. Rumors were enough and Vitus was sentenced to death. But before being hanged, he asked to play one more time his violin. As his music started, people couldn’t stop dancing and finally their feet got stuck into the ground. In the meantime, Vitus had left the city and Saint Willibrord had to undo the curse. It is also this legend that transformed the “Sprangprëssessioun” into a truly empowering pilgrimage. Some stories tell that pilgrims from the Eifel region in Germany always brought along with them coffins, as dancing and walking that many kilometers in hard weather conditions often resulted in some deaths.
It is also interesting to mention that the way pilgrims hop has always been prone to misunderstandings and wrong interpretation. Although in ancient times, the procession must have been not as well organized as nowadays, Luxembourgers took over the idea of the pilgrims hopping in small steps: three steps forward and two steps back. This has led to the Luxembourgish expression “doing something at an Echternach pace” (meaning very slowly). However the “Sprangprëssessioun” is more a skipping procession than a hopping procession, because participants, lined up in rows of 5-6 and holding the ends of a handkerchief, skip two steps to the left and two to the right. Brass and wind bands, as well as fiddler ensembles perform the traditional “Sprangprëssessioun” song.
On June 23, Luxembourg celebrates its national day with fireworks and a military parade. Having a relatively young history, Luxembourg’s national day was first celebrated on “Kinnéksdag” (birthday of the Dutch king) to later, under the reign of Grand Duchess Charlotte (1919-1964), be transferred to June 23. Indeed, being born on January 23, a warmer season was looked for to celebrate the Grand Duchess’s birthday. In 1962 and even after the enthronement of Grand Dukes Jean and Henri, Luxembourg’s national day is celebrated on such a summery day. June 23 became as well the day where Luxembourgers celebrate themselves.
What festivities can you see on that special day? Indeed already on the eve of June 23, festivities start with the traditional changing of the guard in front of the “Palais” (palace) in Luxembourg-city and later a torchlit parade followed by bright “Freedefeier” (fireworks) accompanied with music and lit from Fort Thüngen (behind the Mudam museum) in the Three Acorns park. Live music will be played at the Place Guillaume II and concerts, street parties, receptions and church services are celebrated throughout the city and the whole country. Indeed Luxembourg’s cities celebrate with their own specific festivities, ranging from small fireworks to big concerts. One of the members of the Grand Duke’s family always visits the city of Esch/Alzette, in the South of the country, while the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess visit a different city each year.
In the morning of June 23, an official ceremony takes place at the Luxembourg Philharmonie. During the traditional military parade which passes along the Avenue de la Liberté the troops are reviewed by the Grand Duke. In the afternoon a more solemn religious service, the “Te Deum” (a hymn beginning Te Deum laudamus, “We praise Thee, O God,”) is held in Luxembourg City’s Notre-Dame cathedral. There will also be live music at Place d’Armes throughout the day. Luxembourg’s municipalities also celebrate vividly on that day, with “Te Deum” services and patriotic speeches from mayors who often award the Order of Merit to musicians and firefighters. Often a ‘democratic banquet’ at a local is served to municipal politicians and members of associations.