Liichtmëssdag brings light to Luxembourg
Forty days after Christmas on 2 February, the children of Luxembourg take to the streets at dusk to celebrate Liichtmëssdag or Candlemas Day.
The tradition is for children to make lanterns, usually at school, and then accompanied by a few parents or teachers, they take these homemade Liichtebengelcher door to door in the streets, singing Léiwer Härgottsbleischen, a song asking for peas, bacon and biscuits. If you answer the door, they’ll wish you good health, and in return you must give them a few treats or coins.
Of course today, the lanterns aren’t candles on the end of wooden sticks (see the video at the end of this article), but more fancy affairs lit by battery operated artificial candles. You can find a template to make one here. Supermarkets also sell sticks with battery operated lights to which you can attach your paper lantern.
Celtic worship of Brigid
The origins of this celebration date back to Celtic times, when on eve of 2 February, farming communities celebrated Imbolc, by worshipping the goddess Brigid, patron saint of cattle, crops and fertility (and a forerunner to the Irish Saint Brigid who shares the same name).
Farmers and their families would march through the fields with torches, asking Brigid to ensure the soil was fertile for another year of crops. Brigid crosses and dolls crafted from straw were made by the girls and paraded through the streets, where people would offer up food, drink, and even a bed for the doll.
Saint Blaise, the pig and the choking child
The date is close to the name day for Saint Blaise (3 February in Catholic religion and 11 February for Eastern/Oriental Orthodox). He is said to protect cattle, heal sore throats and cure the plague. He's also the patron saint of Dubrovnik in Croatia.
A Christian physician from Armenia recognised today as one of the 14 holy helpers, the Saint is said to have cured a child choking to death on a fishbone, and commanded a wolf to return a stolen pig alive and unhurt to its owner. That same owner brought two candles to light Saint Blaise’s prison cell before his execution by Roman emporer Licinius.
From the 16th century onwards, the blessing of Saint Blaise is celebrated with two candles being consecrated and crossed before the congregation in church.
Significance of candles
Candlemas today marks the date Mary presented Jesus at the temple, and is a reminder that Jesus is referred to as the light of the world. In some Christian traditions, this is the day when people take down their Christmas decorations.
The feast of the presentation is one of the oldest Christian traditions, celebrated in Jerusalem since the 4th century. The faithful were offered blessed candles (today you can take candles to be blessed at church) which they kept at home and lit during the year to ward away danger and evil.
Toss pancakes for good luck
As if there weren’t enough treats, a regional tradition is to make pancakes, a custom that originates from Pope Gelasius I who, in the 5th century, distributed pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome for this feast day.
For good luck you should fry your pancakes or crepes by candlelight, holding a coin in your left hand. You flip the pancake with your right, and if it doesn’t fall on the floor, you’ll be in for a year of health and happiness. The custom was to keep the first pancake in a cupboard to ensure a good harvest.
If you fancy making your own pancakes, you’ll need 250 grams flour, 5 eggs, 500ml of milk, and 50 grams each of sugar and butter (melted). Mix together the flour and sugar with a pinch of salt and mix in the eggs, one at a time. Then stir in the milk and melted butter in small amounts until your batter is smooth and creamy. Leave for an hour, then get frying by candlelight, with a coin in your left hand. We don't recommend leaving any in the cupboards.
To hear the words and tune to Léiwer Härgottsbleischen in the video clip below.
This article was first published on 31 January 2021.