It may be one of Luxembourg's biggest traditions, but what do we actually know about the Grand Duchy's National Day, otherwise known as the Grand Duke's Official Birthday?

The tradition is actually one that isn't that old, all things considering. Its history of being celebrating on 23 June only goes back to the 1960s, rather than the nineteenth century, as one might think.

It's one of the most exciting days in the calendar, complete with a military parade, fireworks, and a bank holiday. Unfortunately, residents won't benefit from the bank holiday this year, as it falls on a Sunday.

Let's take a deep dive into the history of Luxembourg's National Day in this Knowledge Bite.

Has there ever been a monarch born on 23 June?

As you may or may not know, depending on your knowledge of Luxembourg's National Day, 23 June is not Grand Duke Henri's actual birthday (16 April for the curious of you). However, nor is it the birthday of the late Grand Duke Jean or his mother Grand Duchess Charlotte. In fact, none of Luxembourg's monarchs were born on 23 June.

Nationalfeierdag, otherwise known as Groussherzog(in)sgebuertsdag, has its origins in the monarch of the time's birthday. When the Dutch and Luxembourgish thrones split in 1890, the House of Nassau-Weilburg celebrated the official birthdays of their monarchs on their actual birthdays. The day only became the 'national holiday' in 1947, but still took place on the actual birthday of the monarch at the time.

Grand Duchess Charlotte.

1961 saw the decisive change in date for Luxembourg's National Day. The Grand Duchess Charlotte was born on 23 January, and her son, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean (and Lieutenant-Representative of the Grand Duchess as of April 1961) was born on 5 January. Given that both monarchs had birthdays in the middle of winter, the decision was made to celebrate the official Grand Duchess/Duke's birthday in June.

The government took Grand Duchess Charlotte's birthday and chose the corresponding day in June as its National Day, which was then cemented by Grand Ducal degree on 23 December 1961.

The first National Day on 23 June thus took place in 1962 and has been fixed to this date every year since.

Did Luxembourg have official celebrations before?

Prior to 1962, the Nassau-Weilburg monarchs would simply celebrate their national day or official birthdays on their actual birthdays, but there was a celebration before the Grand Ducal House decided on this tradition.

As of 1815, when Luxembourg was named a Grand Duchy, it shared its monarch with the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. As a result, Luxembourg would celebrate its national day on the birthday of the Dutch king and Luxembourgish Grand Duke on Kinnéksdag (King's Day). This tradition ended with the death of William III, whose daughter Wilhelmina succeeded him to the Dutch throne. The Grand Duchy however could only be inherited through the male line, which consequently marked the separation of the Dutch and Luxembourgish thrones, ending the Kings Day tradition and heralding the Grand Duke's Day celebrations.

What official celebrations take place? 

Nationalfeierdag festivities actually start the day before on 22 June. As with New Year's Eve, the bank holiday is preceded by night celebrations and fireworks ahead of the actual day.

There are different types of festivities belonging to National Day. It all begins with the solemn changing of the guard in front of the Grand Ducal palace at 4pm. Every year, the Grand Ducal couple also visit a different Luxembourgish town on the eve of the National Day whilst one member of the Grand Ducal family makes sure to visit Esch-sur-Alzette, which is considered the country's second-most important city.

The official celebrations continue on 23 June with the official ceremony at the Philharmonie, which is then followed by a 21 gun salute from the Fetschenhof in Cents.

The military then performs its annual parade, which traditionally took place on Avenue de la Liberté, but will be performed in Kirchberg this year. The Grand Ducal family inspect the troops during their drills ahead of watching the parade. The Notre-Dame Cathedral also holds a traditional Te Deum in the afternoon. Local churches in the country's different municipalities also sing Te Deum on Nationalfeierdag.

Fetschenhof as painted in 1870. / © icolas Liez: Vue de la ville de Luxembourg depuis le Fetschenhof, 1870

Fireworks and celebrations

Whilst the Grand Ducal family may spend the evening of 22 June visiting different towns, the capital holds celebrations throughout the evening, notably the torch-lit parade and concerts.

The torch-lit parade (Fakelzuch) sets off at 9.20pm and snakes through the capital city before arriving at the Grand Ducal podium (Boulevard F.D Roosevelt), where their Royal Highnesses arrive later on in the evening.

Luxembourg City's narrow streets and public squares transform into an open-air party, with bars offering drinks outside, concerts taking place at every corner, and a general atmosphere of merriment. The fireworks will be set off from the Adolphe bridge at 11pm, but the party naturally continues on after the fireworks end.

For more details on the torch-lit parade's route and concerts in the city, Ville de Luxembourg have all the details (in English as well!).