Burning winter (“Buergbrennen”) in Luxembourg
Hunt winter, an ancestral custom?
Since ancient times, fire symbolizes the rebirth of spring that chases away winter. It is the triumph of heat over cold, of light over twilight. While continuity is impossible to establish, a variety of fire-related festivities to ‘hunt winter’ exist all over Europe.
In Luxembourg, every year on Lent Sunday, a structure made of wood, straw and other makeshift material is assembled by local associations. The pyre is constructed (mostly) in the shape of a cross. In the evening, a torchlight procession leads from the village towards the stake, which is set on fire at nightfall, traditionally by the most recently married couple. In most localities, the brightly shining trappings can be then admired by visitors. The focus is not only on the fire, but also on the conviviality that make winter hunting an event for the local population over and over again.
The origins of this burning of large-size crosses known as ‘castles’ (Buergen) are very difficult to trace. The Buergbrennen tradition also exists in some French, Belgian and German regions. In Alsace, the Sunday after Carnival, appointment is given for the Schieweschlawe, for example in Wintzenheim-Kochersberg (Bas-Rhin). In Switzerland, cracking the whip (Peitschenknallen) is celebrated to hunt winter in Schwyz. The burning of man-size straw dolls can be found in many localities all over Europe.
This project aims at exploring practices of Buergbrennen (fête des Brandons) on the basis of a survey, press analysis, photographic archives, qualitative interviews and participant observation. The study is financed by the Municipality of Käerjeng in the context of the European Capital of Culture Esch2022. It will be presented as part of a cycle of conferences investigating the challenges and creative solutions of up-dating or reinventing traditions in late modernity.
The study is linked to an artistic exploration of hunt winter customs: At the traditional festival of Brandons in Fingig (5-6 March 2022) fire sculptures will be presented by visual artists – in collaboration with the local associations Féngiger Jugend, Club des Jeunes de Clemency and the AIESM association.
Public lectures and discussions with S. Kmec and C. Lorent, 23.11 and 1.12.2022, Bascharage.
S. Kmec, C. Lorent & J. Reitz, Den Winter verjagen. Das Burgbrennen in Luxemburg und seine Entwicklung seit den 1970er Jahren, in: Hémecht. Revue d’histoire luxembourgeoise 75/4 (2023), p. 389-418
Illustration: Burgbrennen zu Lampesch den 10.03.2019 ©Jean Reitz