If you’ve ever wondered why hordes of lantern-carrying offspring asked you for money and sweets in the evening hours of 2 February, those were the proceedings of the annual tradition ‘Liichtmëssdaag’.
You might be fooled into thinking ‘this must have something to do with carnival’, but rest assured, it isn't.
The name ‘Liichtmëssdaag’ comes from the Latin term: ‘festa candelarum’, which literally means ‘celebration of the candles’. This is also known as ‘Candlemas’ or the ‘Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus’. So, true to most feast days, it has a religious background and has been celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem. This makes it one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church.
However, the origin of ‘Candlemas’ goes back even further than the 4th century. Christians adopted the feast day from a Gaelic traditional festival called ‘Imbolc’, which marked the beginning of spring and was associated with the goddess Brigid.
At Imbolc, Brigid’s crosses and a doll-like figure of Brigid – called a ‘Brídeóg’ – were made. The figure would then be paraded from house-to-house by girls, and sometimes accompanied by 'strawboys'. Brigid was said to visit one's home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for her and leave food and drink, and items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless.
Different countries have different traditions when it comes to Candlemas, but in Luxembourg, the current practice of Liichtmëssdag is a day centred around children. In small groups, and all dressed up, they roam the streets during the afternoon or evening of 2 February, holding a lighted lantern, singing the traditional song ‘Léiwer Härgottsblieschen’ and promising health and joy.
In exchange for the music, they hope to receive a reward in the form of sweets or loose change (formerly bacon, peas, or biscuits, which are mentioned in the lyrics of the tune).
But why the song? Well, 3 February, one day after Liichtmëssdaag, is St. Blaise day. ‘Léiwer Härgottsblieschen’ is a song dedicated to this holy man, who is said to have saved a choking child’s life.
Liichtmëssdaag is not to be confused with ‘Heeschen’, the latter being an uncannily similar tradition which takes place on the last Thursday before Lent. ‘Heeschen’ means ‘to beg’, and as you can imagine, kids yet again dress up and go knocking on people’s doors for sweets and money. However, this tradition is more customary for the north of Luxembourg. This doesn’t stop the sly northern children from having their cake and eating it, though: they make sure they take full advantage of both occasions!