The first Sunday in Lent is a special day in Luxembourg. It is known as Buergbrennen and is an old festival connected with the Spring solstice (which is actually not until March 21st) and is a way to chase away the winter and welcome spring again to the country.
After the freezing temperatures of February, we were more than happy to join in anything that welcomed spring weather back, so we wrapped up warm and headed out last night to join in the fun.
Most villages and communes in Luxembourg have their own bonfire and celebrations for the evening. In Luxembourg city, the biggest one is in the Petrusse Valley, which is the steep sided river valley that curves its way through the heart of the city, leading to the beautiful bridges and parks that attract all our tourists in the summer.
From our flat it is just a ten minute walk to the top of the valley, from where you can walk all the way in to the centre, the cliffs on each side gradually getting higher and higher. It was dark a lot of the way, with the only sound the small river running through the valley and hundreds of crows cawing and circling overhead. If you had a more nervous character you might have imagined yourself in a crime novel…
Eventually the sound of burning and the glow of firelight reached us and we came across this scene in the valley:
Luxembourg is incredibly punctual (somewhat a surprise after four years in Belgium) so we arrived just a few minutes after they had lit the huge bonfire. Traditionally it is made up of old Christmas trees and wood, and it also makes the shape of a cross, something which seems odd to foreigners used to images of the ku klux klan, but which I am assured is not remotely hostile!
It burned hot and high, with the sparks and ashes leaping high up the cliff to the spectators above. There were firemen to keep it under control and I always wonder whether events like these are a highlight of their job – to be playing (safely!) with fire rather than putting it out?
There were hundreds of people there and food and drink stalls and we bumped into some of Rasmus’ colleagues and some friends from church which was fun. It seems Luxembourg is small enough that it is perfectly possible to find yourself standing next to friends in a huge crowd.
We watched for a while until the fire started to burn down, and then headed back up the valley to home. I don’t know how successful we were in chasing away the winter (it’s warmer today, for sure) but I do know that discovering events like these are what makes being in a new place such fun. There are a nation’s worth of new traditions and festivals and customs to discover, new ways to understand being community together and new ways to celebrate the changing seasons of the year.