Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leaping into Lent

During our stay in New Braunfels, an interesting conversation came up at dinner one night - Mardi Gras evening, to be exact. Joe's extended family is Catholic and the topic of lent came up. The boys were asked what they were going to give up for the Lenten season. Although we have not been the most consistent attenders at church, the boys were baptized in a Methodist church and our oldest was confirmed a few years ago. We haven't really looked for a church here in Lux, though I did take the boys to a service at the Anglican church near our house a few months back. In any case, we have not really practiced Lent in our house, but I thought it was a great discussion. Being typical adolescent boys, their ideas of "sacrifice" included such things as vegetables, playing video games between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., exercising, ... you get the picture. What can I say? This is obviously an area in their young lives I need to spend some time on. So, I figured the best way to start was by example. I debated awhile on what I could reasonably sacrifice that could resonate with the kids. I also wanted to be reasonable since I figured nothing could possibly be worse than trying to provide an example, only to fail! I did a little self assessment and decided to give up pizza and pasta. Now, this may not seem like a big sacrifice to some, but living in Luxembourg, it actually is a really tough one to keep. There are an abundance of Italian restaurants and they tend to be the most affordable. Also, pizza and pasta happen to be the quick staple meals that I can throw together in a pinch. Well, no one else, including Joe, was game for my idea. So, technically I could still fix either for them, but at least for 40 days, I won't. The least I can do is minimize the temptation at home!

Anyway, since I decided to participate in this annual Christian ritual, I figured I might as well learn more about the religious customs here in Luxembourg. Besides, having missed the Buergbrennen (an event that I was actually very interested in seeing, but the timing just wasn't in the cards) I really wanted to learn more about the local customs. To start, the majority of the Luxembourg population is Catholic (by most recent estimates, about 87%), so many of the country's celebrated holidays are religious holidays recognized by the Roman Catholic church. Furthermore, many festivals hold some level of religious significance.

The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday when many Christian attend church and receive the ashen cross on their foreheads, a symbol of repentance. The Buergbrennan, a celebration that centers around a huge bonfire, follows on the first Sunday following Ash Wednesday. This festival originated with pagan feasts that coincided with the spring solstice. Based on old traditions, the festival celebrated the end of winter. It began as a simple bonfire made of wood and straw, but over time a central pillar of tree branches (now days last year's Christmas trees are often used) and a cross were added. Now, I know what many people might be thinking - (trust me, most Americans I have spoken to who have witnessed this event have had the same thoughts!) the addition of the cross just hits a little too close to home - particularly for Southerners. I have read several blog posts that mention the eerie feeling folks have had when they have attended the event. However, if you just keep in mind the accurate symbolism and the fact that it is viewed as a Christian based ritual on the first Sunday of Lent, those other images of the American South quickly dissipate. One other interesting fact about this celebration is that the fire has traditionally been set by the last man (originally only men were allowed to celebrate at this event) or couple to wed. Needless to say, the local fire departments are also actively involved in this celebration!
Pretzels for Bretzelsonndeg

This being leap year, the second recognized celebration has an interesting "twist". Bretzelsonndeg, or Pretzel Sunday, is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday. Traditionally, boys will give their girlfriends pretzels or pretzel-shaped cakes, with the size of the pretzel reflecting the size of his admiration. In return, a girl shows her interest by giving the boy a decorated egg on Easter, with the size of the egg also reflecting the size of her admiration. Now, since 2012 is a leap year, the tradition is reversed and girls give the boys pretzels - à la Sadie Hawkins style. I have quickly learned that every celebration here (at least, in Luxembourg) seems to involve some kind of pastry! Every grocery store, boulangerie, patiserie, etc. is now fully stocked with sweetened versions of this interesting tradition, in various sizes of course. I had also been wondering about the eggs since I just saw those at the local Del Haize grocery store this weekend. Well, I couldn't resist. I did buy a couple for the boys in the family (Joe assured me that he in fact did NOT need a large one to know how much I love him :) I couldn't help it - I am a sucker for new traditions and how could I possibly pass on one that involves pastries (thank goodness I didn't give those up for Lent!)

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