How Luxembourg celebrates National Day
National Day takes place each year on the 23 June in celebration of the Grand Duke’s birthday, except it is not actually his birthday, and it wasn’t always celebrated in June.
The tradition of celebrating the monarch’s birthday with a day off to carouse, dates back to the 19th century when Luxembourg was still part of the Netherlands. When the Dutch and Luxembourgish thrones parted company in 1890 (because at the time, the Grand Duchy could not be inherited through the female line, and Wilhelmina succeeded her father to the Dutch throne), the House of Nassau-Weilburg decided instead to celebrate the Grand Duke’s Day, doing so on the ruling Grand Duke’s birthday.
In the beginning, celebrations were mostly official, but records show that a torchlight procession took place in 1840, and included a parade with music, and the singing of the national anthem. By 1870 the torchlight procession was integrated into the celebrations and in the 1890s a public dance was added.
Why 23 June?
It started with one of Luxembourg’s much-loved royal family members – Grand Duchess Charlotte, who was the royal head of the Grand Duchy from 1919 to 1964. Her birthday was 23 January, so not really the right season for a party with fireworks. She moved the celebrations to 23 June. The day was made a statutory holiday in 1948 and the date was fixed by Grand Ducal decree in 1961. The current Grand Duke Henri’s actual birthday is 16 April.
How is National Day celebrated?
Festivities begin on the eve of the actual day (the 22 June) at 16.00 with the changing of the guard at the Grand Ducal Palace. This is attended by the Duke and Duchess and accompanied by the Luxembourg Military Band.
Afterwards, Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa visit a different town in Luxembourg each year – in 2019 it was Bourscheid and in 2018 Larochette. Their heirs, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie traditionally attend the celebrations in Esch-sur-Alzette which include a procession of 40 local societies through Place l’Hotel de Ville, and the laying of a wreath at the Monument aux Morts.
At about 21.30 the “Fakelzuch” or torchlight procession through Luxembourg City starts at Puits Rouge and passes by the Grand Ducal family and the city mayor who have the best vantage point from a podium on Boulevard Roosevelt. In previous years the procession has contained several floats and about 2000 people, including local associations, folk groups and marching bands. Then DJs, concerts and a general party atmosphere takes over the streets.
At 23.00 the city’s night sky is lit up by a “Freedefeier” or a fantastic firework display over Adolphe Bridge, set to music, and lasting about 15 to 20 minutes. The party isn’t over then, but just about to start.
National Day itself is a more sober affair, kicking off with a more official ceremony on the 23 June at 10.00 at the Luxembourg Philharmonie. During the ceremony the Prime Minister traditionally gives a speech and the Grand Duke awards honours to citizens who have made an important contribution to the Grand Duchy. The Philharmonie also performs a work by a different composer each year. In 2019, the orchestra performed a piece entitled “Regis ostium” composed by classical and jazz trumpeter, Ernie Hammes.
After the ceremony, there is a 21 gun salute from Fetschenhaff in Cents, and a military parade, involving the army, police, fire and rescue workers, and the Red Cross. In addition to marching bands, military equipment is on display and military planes fly overhead. In the past, this parade travelled down Avenue de la Liberté, with an army fair or “Arméifest” that took place at Place des Martyrs, although in 2019 the display and the parade were moved to Place d’Europe in Kirchberg.
The national anthem “Ons Heemecht” or Our Homeland is sung during the military parade, and if you don’t know it, you can listen with English subtitles below:
In the afternoon, a solemn Te Deum takes place at the Notre Dame Cathedral, led by the Archbishop of Luxembourg and attended by the Duke and Duchess, officials and dignitaries which include the Chief Rabbi of Luxembourg, the Imam representing the Muslim community and the Reverend of the Anglican Church of Luxembourg. It’s a chance to hear the great organ of the cathedral in action, and listen to the trumpeters of the Military Band.
Children are invited to try different games in a National Day Spillfest at Kinnekswiss park from 14.00, and there are free concerts at Place d’Armes during the afternoon.
The Duke and Duchess don’t get to put their feet up quite yet, as normally they would host another reception at the Grand Ducal Palace, adding a whole new level to celebrating your birthday for 48 hours, even if it isn’t your actual birthday.
Low-key celebrations in 2021
This year, the city festivities usually held on the eve of National Day are again cancelled due to the pandemic. However Luxembourg City will mark the holiday with a series of small concerts on 23 June in Mansfeld Park, Clausen, starting at 11.00.
The line-up for "Klangbuer – Mansfeld Sessions" includes:
11:00–12:00: Lëtzebuerger Weisen - a trio of unruly singer-comedians.
13:30–15:00: Olio Galanti - aka Luc Nilles, will unleash his velvety voice to perform 1920s-style classic and new songs.
17:00–18:00: Benny & The Bugs - long-standing Luxembourg folk group with a popular repertoire.
20:00–21:30: Les Gavroches - travel back to an era of open-air cafes and public dances with this band comprising a singer, an accordianist and a guitarist.
Tickets must be reserved in advance from luxembourg-ticket.lu and attendees must wear a face mask for the entire event.
Residents in the city will all receive a cook book entitled Ee Gudden Nationalfeierdag, which lists a number of Luxembourgish recipes to try out on National Day. If you didn't receive a copy (or don't live in the city) you can download one here.
In Differdange, marching bands from the municipality will cross town between 20.00 and 22.00. In Dudelange there will be entertainment on the eve of national day including music from the Harmonie Municipale, and the group Echoes will play Pink Floyd songs in a free concert at 19.30. Up to 300 people will attend the concert, but you must register for advance tickets on the website of the Opderschmelz cultural centre (there were still a few tables for 1 and 2 people available at the time of writing).
For a birdseye view of National Day in the city, take a look at this video.