Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hazy Shade of Winter

Buergbrennen - photo by Charel Bidoli (
I hate to whine. I really do. But, being a Texan, I am used to the sun, and this winter has really been a long, grey, drawn-out ordeal. I do know I tend to be a bit sensitive to seasonal affective disorder (otherwise known as the Winter Blues), so I have definitely been popping those vitamins D pills, but I don't think I have ever felt so sun deprived!  I am told that this winter has been a bit unusual. Given that the weather EVERYWHERE has been "unusual," what is really "usual"? It can be a bit surreal watching the news here and seeing the U.S. be battered time and time again by some "unusual" hurricane, snow storm, etc. It seems we could all use a break from this onslaught of winter. Besides, I could have sworn I saw Phil declare an early end to winter this year!

Okay, so maybe Phil has no known influence on European winters. In fact, I doubt many Europeans even know about Punxutawney Phil, and would find it rather odd that we wake up on February 2nd in eager anticipation as to whether or not this notable rodent will see his shadow. That being said, Luxembourg has its own odd celebrations for the end of winter. Probably the best known event here in Luxembourg would have to be the Buergbrennen. Although I have not had the chance to attend one of the local celebrations, it is by far the one that is most disturbing to Americans, only because for those of us brought up in the South, cross burnings mean something VERY different than what it symbolizes here. Buergbrennen is a long celebrated tradition in Luxembourg. Villages throughout the country put great use to their dried up Christmas trees by fashioning them into a cross and setting them on fire. This is generally preceded by a church service and a torchlit parade through the city. The bonfire itself represents the "burning" of winter and the beginning of longer days and shorter nights.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to make it to the Buergbrennen these last couple of years. This year, however, the boys and I did manage to make it to a smaller celebration in Remich (a small wine town near the German border) called Stréimännchen. Similar in concept, and generally held on Ash Wednesday, locals create a large straw man (think scarecrow from "Wizard of Oz," only 10 feet tall and holding an empty bottle of Cremant) and parade him through the narrow streets of the small border town, accompanied by the typical, boisterous "oompah" bands. Once they reach the Moselle River, which separates Luxembourg from Germany, the music becomes more solemn and the parade transitions into a funeral procession. The straw man's journey ends at the mid point of the bridge where he is lit on fire and tossed into the Moselle river, again, symbolizing the end of winter, the end of carnival, and the beginning of lent. I have to admit - the boys thought this ritual was a bit on the creepy side, not to mention a bit un-environmental given the burning "trash" tossed into the river, but I love that Luxembourg has these unique and often "quirky" events. 

Speaking of quirky celebrations, I happen to be writing this post on "Bretzelsonndeg." Similar to Valentine's Day, Bretzelsonndeg is just another day and another opportunity for men to express their love or interest in a girl by presenting them with, what else... a pretzel. In fact, the larger the pretzel, the more the implied, um, affection :) If the feeling is mutual, the boy will likely receive a chocolate egg from the girl of his affections on Easter Sunday. The exception to both of these events is leap year when roles are reversed. The straw "man" is a straw "woman," and women have the honor of presenting pretzels to their sweethearts (a la Saddie Hawkins).

Anyway, it does seem that Luxembourgers have enough rituals around the riddance of winter that I am not alone in my quest for sunnier days and spring flowers. Spring break is quickly approaching and we will definitely be heading towards warmer temperatures and sunny beaches. In the meantime, it seems we are expecting another 1-3 inches of snow in the next couple of days. Guess I won't be putting that snow shovel up just yet...

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