January is a celebration of both beginnings and endings; The first of the month boasts fireworks and feasts, whilst the 6th January will crown the King or Queen in your family. The Queen of Luxembourger’s hearts, Grand Duchess Charlotte, also comes to mind in this, her month of birth. Here’s the low-down on these Luxembourg traditions in January.
Neijoerschdag (New Year’s Day): 1st January
Luxembourgers were mainly farmers 40 years ago and if you speak to an older Luxembourger you will find that meat and simple foods are traditional at New Years. This may vary from a simple cold plate, with ham, sausage, cheese and pâté to a more elaborate dish of meat and fish. A common way to combine the simplicity of ingredients with a festive method of communal serving are with raclette dishes or meat fondues. As you may have gathered, desserts are as important as the main meal in Luxembourg, so for New Years there will often be a traditional butter cake in the shape of a calendar, usually be served with ice-cream. And how to toast in the new year? Why, with Crémant, of course! Offered at midnight, with a small offering of onion soup or ham with salad to assuage any hunger pangs; what could be more Luxembourgish?
But as we know, French and German influences are ever at work in Luxembourg and households may deviate from the above meals to indulge in a healthy dose of oysters, with which the supermarkets are heaving at this time of year. Being so far from the sea here in Luxembourg, these salty treats are a delicious and welcome French addition to the table. From Germany, a sweet treat has crept into the Grand Duchy in the form of… a marzipan pig, of course! Both chimney sweeps and swine are thought to bring good luck for the forthcoming year; the giving of these lucky charms in marzipan form is a German tradition that some Luxembourgers have taken for their own. Altogether now, Chim chiminey, Chim chiminey, Chim chim cher-ee; a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be’.
New Year’s morning often brings a lie-in (unless you have small children; then chances are you’ll be napping with them at noon) and a hangover; perhaps it’s that ‘beer fear’ that led to the idea of new year’s resolutions or virsätz in Luxembourgish. Whatever the reason, the idea is to make a promise with one’s self to do something different to better life in the coming year, whether it’s to stop smoking, lose weight or… drink less next new year’s eve!
Fireworks are another obligatory staple on New Years Eve, no matter how sleepy the neighbourhood, there is always a backdrop of the swirling, banging explosions in gardens and on street corners. If you are invited to see fireworks at a friendly Luxembourg neighbour’s for New Year, take along a bottle of wine or champagne for the host and flowers for the hostess or perhaps knippecher (pralines) from Namur or Oberweis. Vill Gléck am neie Joër!
Dräikinneksfest (Epiphany): 6th January
Photo credit: Steph Gray/flickr (file) - this photo has been cropped
The Christian feast of Dräikinneksfest celebrating “Epiphania Domini” or Ephiphany takes place in Luxembourg on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. In Luxembourg, the tradition has been revived in the last decade by the Luxembourg Baker’s Federation, who have begun to bake the traditional Galette des Rois (The Kings’ Cake in French) or Epiphany cake and display it along with a golden crown in their patisserie windows. These frangipane-filled tarts hold a small bean or trinket which has been baked inside; the accompanying crown is to be worn by the lucky discoverer of the bean, who then becomes King of the family for the day.
This occasion dates back to the 14th century and celebrates the three kings, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, pilgrims who travelled from the Orient following the morning star that led them to the foretold Christ child, Jesus, in Bethlehem. Look out for the Three Kings Cake in your local bakery!
Remembering Charlotte: 14th January (memory of the succession) & 23rd January (birthdate)
The inscription says it all: 'We love you'. Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis/flickr (file)
Grande-Duchess Charlotte is never far from a Luxembourger’s memory; whilst crossing the bridge, driving the boulevard or passing the hospital named after her; she still seems fresh in the hearts and minds of the Grand Duchy. All children learn about the princess who was called on unexpectedly to rule; who rose to the occasion and reigned for over 45 years.
January, her birth-month, became particularly auspicious for the Duchess when, on January 14th 1919, she found herself a popular leader of Luxembourg. Her sister Marie-Adelaide had been compromised after perceived support of the Germans and was forced to abdicate; Charlotte declined to work with the Nazis and was exiled in London where she broadcast messages of support through the BBC to her people. She boosted moral with her heartfelt Luxembourgish messages at a time when occupied Luxembourg was forced to speak German; and sons and fathers were conscripted into the German army. Although some Luxembourgers were at odds with her leaving Luxembourg at such a time, she became even in her absence a voice of resistance and worked tirelessly to gain support for her small nation during this trying time. Luxembourgers hold her in their hearts still and it’s worth remembering the brave duchess of this beautiful country this month.