Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Punxsutawney Phil: Meet Liichtmëssdag and Chandeleur

No matter where you are in the northern hemisphere this time of year, it’s a sure bet that you’re looking forward to winter coming to an end. So, there’s no time to start looking forward to spring like the first week of February, which marks the halfway point between the first day of winter (Dec. 20, 2010) and the first day of spring (March 20, 2011).

In America, we wait every February 2 for our favorite Pennsylvania groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, to peek out of his hole and let us know how close we are to spring weather. As the tradition goes, if Phil sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, it means an early spring.

Unless Punxsutawney Phil has a distant cousin in Europe that I haven’t heard about, I think it’s safe to say that folks don’t wait for a groundhog to predict the weather here. Instead, they take things into their own hands and just forge ahead and celebrate the fact that winter is half over and spring is on its way by engaging in rituals that have been handed down and have evolved over centuries.

Today, February 2, two holidays are being celebrated in our neck of the woods: Liichtmëssdag and Chandeleur.
A number of traditions in this part of the world date back to Pagan roots (Liichtmëssdag being one example). As Christianity spread, these celebrations grew to incorporate Christian beliefs and traditions and then to become accepted as Christian holidays. Liichtmëssdag and Chandeleur both seem to be regional twists on celebrating the Christian holiday of Candlemas (you might also know it as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin).

Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after the birth of baby Jesus, when the Virgin Mary would have gone to the temple for a purification ritual and to present Jesus before God. In those times, mothers were required by law to endure a waiting period (or ritual cleansing period) after giving birth and before entering a temple to engage in religious services; they were considered unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son and for 80 days after the birth of a daughter. Perhaps in celebration of the day Jesus was presented at the temple, it has also become tradition that the church blesses its candles on this day of the year, candles being symbolic of light (or the Holy Spirit) being brought into the world – this “candle mass” or Candlemas.

So, here are the Luxembourgish and French takes on Candlemas:
Liichtmëssdag is Luxembourgish for “light mass day.” The celebration harks back to the Pagan holiday of Imbolc, a celebration where farmers performed rituals they believed would ensure a stable source of food. This occurred at the midpoint between winter and spring, as food stocks grew low and as the days slowly grew longer. Torch processions took place and fires were lit in celebration of Brigid, the goddess of fire, healing and fertility, and symbolized the increasing power of the sun in the coming months – which, of course, is a critical factor in growing bountiful crops.

Photo by Tom Wagner.
These days, the torch processions have been replaced by children carrying flashlights. On the evening of Liichtmëssdag, children gather with homemade lanterns and walk from door to door in their towns singing a song called “Härgottsblieschen” in exchange for candy. The Härgottsblieschen song refers to Saint Blase, whose name day is celebrated on February 3. (Interesting to note that here, in the midst of flu season, Saint Blaise is the patron saint of sore throats.) 

This is an English translation of the lyrics to Härgottsblieschen, provided in a newsletter from our relocation company, European Relocation Services:
Dear St. Blasius, give us bacon and peas
One pound, two pounds, you will enjoy good health in the coming year
Let the young live and the old die
Come quickly, our feet are getting cold
Come now or we'll run away
Come soon, our feet are freezing
If you don't come we'll give you a lapful of nuts

I’m sure there’s a little something lost in translation there, so if you’d prefer to translate the Luxembourgish version yourself, please do…just be sure to share your translation with me when you’re finished!
Léiwer Härgottsblieschen,
Gitt ons Speck an Ierbessen
Ee Pond, zwee Pond,
Dat anert Joer da gitt der gesond,
Da gitt der gesond.
Loosst déi jonk Leit liewen
An déi aal daaniewt,
Kommt der net bal,
D'Féiss ginn ons kal.
Kommt Der net gläich,
Da gi mer op d'Schläich.
Kommt der net geschwënn,
D'Féiss ginn ons dënn.
Kommt Der net gewëss,
Da kritt Der e Schouss voll Nëss.

We live in an apartment building, so chances are slim to none that we will get singing visitors tonight, so Nick and I are headed out shortly to try to find some children with lanterns singing the Härgottsblieschen song. Photos or video to come if we do - wish us luck!

Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière
In French tradition, Chandeleur (Candlemas) is celebrated by eating a crêpe. In fact, Chandeleur is also often referred to as National Crêpe Day. Since the shape of the crêpe is round and gold – just like the sun – it is a food that celebrates the fact that spring is just around the corner.

This food is eaten on this day as homage to Pope Gelasius I (also known as Pope Gélase I, 492-496), who is said to have created Candlemas. Apparently, he fed crêpes to pilgrims in Rome. …But I bet he didn’t serve them with Nutella, which is what I plan to do this evening!

Several legends have become attached to the eating of crêpes on this day. One instructs people to save the first crêpe that is made in their cupboard as a sort of sacrifice to ensure a bountiful harvest later in the year. Another legend predicts that if the crêpe can be flipped successfully while the cook holds a coin in the other hand, a family will have prosperity in the coming year. In one version of the crêpe-flipping legend, the cook is specifically instructed to hold either a piece of gold or a failing currency in their right hand while flipping the crêpe with their left. 

So, since everyone on the Euro certainly has access to a failing currency, let’s hope everyone in Europe is successfully able to flip a crêpe tonight; maybe 2011 will become a prosperous year for everyone!

Here's my attempt to contribute to the greater economic good of my household, and Europe:

Additional Reading:

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your flipping skills! This looks like much more fun than waiting for a groundhog to pop out of his hole.