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Festivals of Western Europe

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« on: April 29, 2009, 01:23:31 pm »

Festivals of Western Europe
Dorothy Gladys Spicer
[1958]


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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2009, 01:24:05 pm »

PREFACE
    "Tradition ties the past to the present and is the link which binds the past to the future," according to Camillo de Castello Branco, Portugal's great nineteenth-century novelist.

    I have written FESTIVALS OF WESTERN EUROPE as one who loves the old in relation to the new, and looks upon the past as the heritage of the future. Festas, fairs, holy days, pilgrimages and patronal village feasts--all these events have come down through the centuries, and intermingled with the traditions of the church and the lives of peasant folk. Festivals once held to honor pagan deities have become associated in the course of time with the saints' days of the Christian calendar. Ancient fertility rites have been transmuted into parish ceremonies to welcome spring and ensure growth of crops and health to beasts. The fires once kindled to light the Sun God on his dark midwinter journey through the heavens now glow brightly in honor of the Christ Child's birth.

    Thus it is that festivals and ceremonies observed in European countries today have origins which are lost in the mists of time. These traditional events are a treasury from which we draw knowledge of peoples, places and customs. Without the past there could be no present, just as without the present there can be no future. This is why tradition is important.

I have written about European festivals as a reporter who, through the years, has visited many countries and participated in many joyous traditional events. I have described customs and ceremonies as I have witnessed them or have learned of them through reliable sources. To make the book more practical festival descriptions are supplemented by reference material which includes a table of Easter dates and movable festivals dependent upon Easter, a glossary of some common festival terms and a list of sources in different languages.

    Numerous items in FESTIVALS OF WESTERN EUROPE are revisions or duplications of material that originally appeared in my earlier work, The Book of Festivals, published by the Woman's Press in 1937 and long out of print. The rights in this publication have reverted to the author.

    FESTIVALS OF WESTERN EUROPE includes descriptions of some of the principal festal events of twelve different countries. The geographical basis of selection is an imaginary line, drawn from Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic. Roughly speaking, everything to the left of this line is "western European," although at various points pieces of the different countries spill over the line on one side or the other.

    The basis of festival selection has been more difficult than determining geographical areas. For each country the cycle of the Christian year has been followed as a skeleton to which local saints' days and regional celebrations have been added. In most countries each tiny hamlet has its own special fetes. Each village celebrates its patronal feast with its own rituals, foods, and folkways. Since few "outsiders" ever hear of these feast days, customs practiced in one village often are totally unknown in the next. Out of hundreds of such days, especially in countries where "every day is a festa," I have tried to select events that are typical of certain localities or varieties of peasant culture.

    No national or political holidays have been included, or "festivals" in the sense of those periodical seasons of entertainment so popular among European tourists. The festivals I have described are the religious feast days and the anniversaries of "days of joy" which occur in the annals of the church and are deeply rooted in the hearts of peasant people.

    Since folklore is probably the most fluid of all sciences, inaccuracies are bound to occur, despite careful checking, in any book depends largely upon folk tradition and folk memory for its source. Additional hazards are met in dealing with a variety of languages and dialects not only from one country to another, but often within the same country. Nuances of meaning and emotion are blurred or lost in translating from a foreign tongue. In many instances archaic words, or words known only to certain localities, occur in the folk rhymes and verses that accompany certain festivals. For this reason I have consistently sought to retain native flavor rather than give literal translations.

    I have given the English version of the festival in parentheses immediately following each foreign title. When festivals local in significance or with special regional characteristics are described, the name of the town or village in which the celebration occurs follows the English title. In order that the locale may be accurately identified, I have also given the larger geographical area.

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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2009, 01:24:22 pm »

* * *

    I wish it might be possible to acknowledge my indebtedness to the many people in many countries who have contributed to the making of this book; for wherever the festival trail has led me, I have met with friendliness and genuine eagerness to share time-honored traditions with someone from afar. Thus I have experienced the joy of "belonging," so to speak, to widely different lands and cultures, and a difficult research task has been lightened by the warmth of happy human relationships.

    I wish to give special thanks for generous help in translating from foreign languages, checking manuscript and many other services to the individuals and organizations listed below under the various countries. I also acknowledge indebtedness for much material to the sources given at the end of the book under Some Helpful Books:

  BELGIUM: Belgian Government Information Center, New York City.

  DENMARK: Danish Information Office, New York City.

  FRANCE: Mesdemoiselles Jeanne Pons and Henriette F. Liboz.

  GERMANY: German Tourist Information Office, New York City.

  ITALY: Italian State Tourist Office, New York City.

  LUXEMBOURG: Mr. George J. Kremer, in Echternach, who acted as my host and established many helpful local contacts, the late Mr. Corneille Staudt, Consul of Luxembourg, and Miss Yolande Loesch, Deputy Commissioner of Industry and Tourism, Consulat General du Grand Duche de Luxembourg, New York City.

  NETHERLANDS: The Netherlands information Service, New York City. Dr. Jacomina Korteling, in Deventer, interpreted for me and I am indebted to her for research and translation. I am also indebted to Mr. J. M. Lentfest, De Twentsche Bank, in Denekamp, for interpreting and establishing contacts; Mr. Th. E. G. Looman, in Denekamp, for the Dutch version of the Denekamp Easter Hymn; Mr. Scholten Lubberink, klompenmaker in Denekamp, for information on the winter horn; Mr. Toon Borghuis, in Oldenzaal, for songs and information on Overijssel customs; Pastor Eerwaarde Jan Bolscher, in Beuningen, for local folk material.

  NORWAY: Norwegian National Travel Office, New York City.

  PORTUGAL: Mr. Joaquim G. de Vasconcellos, from Casa de Portugal, New York City; Sisters of Colegio do Sagrado Coracao de Maria, in Guimaraes, my hostesses during Festis Gualterianas, who made contacts for me and helped in many ways; Miss Juanita Parsons.

  SPAIN: Spanish National Tourist Department, New York City.

  SWEDEN: Mr. Holger Lundbergh and Mr. Stig Nasholm of The American Swedish News Exchange, Inc., New York City.

  SWITZERLAND: Public Relations Department, Swiss National Tourist Office, New York City; Mrs. Maarten Bos, in White Plains, New York.

DOROTHY GLADYS SPICER White Plains, New York December 1957



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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2009, 01:25:05 pm »

CONTENTS
 

 PREFACE
 
 
 FESTIVALS
 
  1.
 FESTIVALS OF BELGIUM
 
  2.
 FESTIVALS OF DENMARK
 
  3.
 FESTIVALS OF FRANCE
 
  4.
 FESTIVALS OF GERMANY
 
  5.
 FESTIVALS OF ITALY
 
  6.
 FESTIVALS OF LUXEMBOURG
 
  7.
 FESTIVALS OF THE NETHERLANDS
 
  8.
 FESTIVALS OF NORWAY
 
  9.
 FESTIVALS OF PORTUGAL
 
  10.
 FESTIVALS OF SPAIN
 
  11.
 FESTIVALS OF SWEDEN
 
  12.
 FESTIVALS OF SWITZERLAND
 




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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2009, 01:25:33 pm »

FESTIVALS
1 FESTIVALS OF BELGIUM
    The fact that both French and Dutch are spoken in Belgium accounts for the mixture of the two languages in the place names and descriptions of Belgian festivals.

NIEUWJAARSDAG (New Year's Day) January 1

    For weeks before New Year's Day children begin saving their pennies to buy gaily decorated papers for writing holiday greetings to parents and god-parents. Often these papers are prettily embellished with motifs such as golden cherubs and angels, brightly-colored roses or ribbon-tied garlands. The children practice composing and writing their letters in school, until a final perfect, or nearly perfect, copy can be made on the fancy paper. Then they carefully hide the messages from their parents.

    On New Year's morning the children read their little compositions before the assembled family. Not only do they wish health and happiness in the coming year; they promise to mend naughty ways and behave like angels during the next twelve months.

    In the Walloon district of Liege children go about from house to house, or stop passers-by on the streets, to wish them a Happy New Year and offer nules, large wafers which are decorated with raised imprints of the crucifix. The children receive coins in exchange for the wafers, which people keep during the year as charms against evil and disease.

    Walloon and Flemish farmers still observe the charming custom of rising early on January first and going out to stables and pens to say "Happy New Year" to the horses, cows, pigs and other domestic animals.

DRIEKONIGENDAG (Three Kings' Day) January 6

    Three Kings' Day, the great festival of boys and girls, usually is celebrated with a party and a gateau des rois, or cake of the Kings. A bean baked inside the cake bestows royalty for the day on the child who finds it in his portion. The King chooses a Queen. Crowned with gold paper crowns and robed in finery borrowed from mother's scrap bag, the youthful sovereigns rule the merry party. Whatever the King and Queen do must be imitated by everyone else.

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« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2009, 01:25:48 pm »

Often bands of children go from door to door singing ditties about the Kings and receiving coins in return. One favorite rhyme is:


Three Kings, Three Kings,
Give me a new hat.
My old one is worn out.
Mother must not know it:
Father counted the money on the grille!

SINT GUDULE or SAINTE GEDULE (Saint Gudule), Brussels, province of Brabant January 8

    The anniversary of Saint Gudule, patroness of Brussels, is observed with great solemnity at the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudule. According to tradition Saint Gudule is buried in the cathedral.

    Legend says that the seventh-century saint, who was noted for piety, used to walk barefoot several miles, morning and evening, to attend Mass at the church of Morzelle. One day, when on the way to early service, the devil extinguished her lantern. As the young girl knelt and prayed for help, an angel rekindled it. The story explains why the saint always is represented accompanied by an angel, who is lighting her lantern.

    Many miracles are attributed to Saint Gudule who died at Nivelles (Nijvel) in 712.

SINT GREGORIUS or SAINT GREGOIRE (Saint Gregory) March 12

    Saint Gregory the Great, the sixth-century monk who became a pope, is patron of school children and scholars. On his feast day boys and girls take a holiday in honor of this pious saint to whom popular legend attributes many kind acts. One is that he freed frogs from the ice of early spring; another that he loved beggars, whom he deferentially called "Father" and fed at his own table with food served on golden plates.

    School children rise early on March 12. Dressed as "little soldiers of Saint Gregory," they take a big basket for gifts and parade through the streets, singing an old song. A noisy drummer announces the approach of the little procession. Pope Gregory himself, in gaudy vestments and gold paper crown, is attended by standard-bearers and followers arrayed in colorful odds and ends of cotton, velvet or silk. The little girls of the procession wear big bright shoulder bows, which capricious March winds snatch at and billow out like butterfly wings.

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« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2009, 01:26:01 pm »

 A troop of angels is one of the procession's traditional features, possibly because of the legend that once, when Gregory was walking through the slave market at Rome, he saw for sale a group of comely heathen youths from Britain. Upon learning their nationality Gregory exclaimed, "Were they but Christians, they would truly be angeli [angels], not Angli [Anglo-Saxons]!"

    The little procession makes neighborhood rounds. At each door the children pause hopefully, chanting this old song which suggests treats are welcome for their holiday feast:


This is the school boy's holiday,
Today we shall have crusty bread
And red, red wine.
Long live good Saint Gregory!

ONZE LIEVE VROUWEDAG (Annunciation) March 25

    Many folk-beliefs surround the Day of Annunciation, anniversary of the Angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary of the Mystery of Incarnation. The Belgian peasant believes this holy time to be important in weather lore, and thinks that a fair eve predicts a plentiful harvest.

    Legend says Our Lord bade even wild birds and animals to observe the Annunciation feast with quiet meditation. The cuckoo alone disobeyed the command and continued his usual raucous calling throughout wood and dale. As punishment for his disobedience God doomed the bird to eternal restless wandering, without a nest of his own.

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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2009, 01:26:13 pm »

CARNAVAL (Carnival), in Binche, province of Hainaut The Sunday, Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday

    Carnival, which falls on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is celebrated throughout Belgium with varying degrees of gaiety. Binche, Alost, Eupen and Maimedy are particularly famous for picturesque observances. Possibly the most remarkable celebration, however, is the Carnival of the Gilles, at Binche.

    It is said that this spectacular event originated in 1549, when the Low Countries provinces which constitute modern Belgium were part of the empire ruled by Charles V. Charles sent his son, who was later to rule Spain and the Low Countries as Philip II, to visit the provinces, and Charles' sister, Marie of Hungary, who was regent under Charles for the area, gave a great entertainment to honor her visiting nephew and to celebrate recent Spanish conquests in Peru. Many think that the gilles, with their enormously tall, plumed headdresses, colorful Inca costumes, foot stamping and strange rhythms, started as a ballet to honor the Conquistadores who, under Pizarro's leadership, had subdued the Peruvian Indians eight years before.

    The word gille means clown. It is the ambition of every male inhabitant of Binche to be a gille at least once in his lifetime. The costumes are costly and elaborate. The brightly-colored blouses are stuffed out with straw; the bell-bottomed long trousers trimmed with many rows of locally-made Binche lace. The deep, gold- and lace-trimmed collars are decorated with tinkling bells and the broad sashes adorned with symbols of the zodiac. The gilles wear heavy wooden shoes with which they clap out their rhythms as they dance tirelessly through the streets, by day and night. On their left arms the performers carry baskets of oranges, which they aim at friends and acquaintances during the dance through the town.

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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2009, 01:26:33 pm »

As Albert Marinus, one of Belgium's great folklorists, aptly says:


The honor, the joy, the pride of a city: The Gilles.
The honor, the joy, the pride of its inhabitants: The Gilles.

VASTENAVOND (Shrove Tuesday) The Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday

    The last day before Lent culminates a long series of joyous carnival events which vary in character from place to place. Koekebakken, or pancakes, and wafelen, or waffles, are Vastenavond delicacies in many households, for rich foods are indulged in everywhere before the rigors of fasting begin.

    Walloon farmers have a superstition that cabbage eaten on this day will prevent flies and caterpillars from destroying the cabbages growing in gardens.

    In some places boys and girls go about singing traditional ditties from door to door. In return, they receive such gifts as apples, nuts and strips of bacon. The children then go for a picnic, broiling their bacon on long willow spits and holding high holiday before Lent starts.

ERSTE ZONDAG VAN DEN VASTEN (First Sunday of Lent) First Sunday in Lent

    In some parts of the Ardennes the first Sunday in Lent is called the "Sunday of the Great Fires," because bonfires are built on the hilltops. For days preceding, children of Grandhalleux go from house to house begging wood for fires. If people refuse to give fuel, the children chase them next day and try to smudge their faces with ashes.

    When the fires are lighted, young people dance and sing about them. Later they leap over the embers with wishes for good crops, good luck in marriage and freedom from colic.

    Seven Lenten fires seen on this night are said to be protection against witches. Sometimes parents tell the children they will receive as many eggs at Easter as they can count fires on the first Sunday in Lent. According to old peasant belief, neglect to kindle "the great fire" means God will kindle it himself--that is, He will set fire to the house.

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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2009, 01:26:47 pm »

WITTE DONDERDAG (Holy Thursday) The Thursday preceding Easter

    On this day the chimes cease ringing in the church towers and people say, "The bells have flown to Rome."

    The Ceremony of Foot Washing is observed in many cathedral churches and in parishes which are endowed for the purpose by rich families. Twelve old men from "God's House," as the almshouse is called, are selected on account of their piety to enact the role of the Twelve Apostles. The clergy bathe the feet of the men and bestow bread and alms, in memory of Jesus, who washed the disciples' feet at the Last Supper.

GOEDE VRIJDAG (Good Friday) The Friday preceding Easter

    All churches are draped in black in memory of Jesus' Passion and a general air of gloom pervades the streets of towns and cities. In the villages peasant women often wear mourning on this day. In the afternoon everybody attends the three-hour Passion service.

ZATERDAG VOOR PASEN (Saturday before Easter) The Saturday preceding Easter

    The chimes that "flew to Rome" on Holy Thursday return the night before Easter. At the Saturday Glory Service they ring joyously throughout the land and parents tell the children that the bells "sow colored eggs in the gardens." In candy and pastry shops, also, one can plainly see the bells have paid a visit; for windows and show cases are filled with all kinds of beautiful bell creations in colored sugar, chocolate and marzipan--many of them decorated with artificial flowers or pretty ribbons--all of them delicious to eat.

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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2009, 01:27:03 pm »

 In some places boys and girls rise early on Easter morning to search for eggs in the gardens; in other districts egg hunts are a feature of the Saturday festivities. Eggs are either dyed in bright solid colors or else decorated with bird and flower designs. Every garden overflows with eggs, which are hidden in tree crotches, behind shrubs, in the grass, behird piles of stones. The children fill little baskets with their treasures. After exhausting the resources of their own gardens, the youngsters visit grandparents, uncles and aunts. Everywhere they go there are more eggs to hunt, for Belgian chimes are no less generous with Easter eggs than with their joyous Resurrection music.

SPEL VAN SINT EVERMARUS (Game of Saint Evermaire), in Rutten (Russon), province of Limburg May 1

    On May 1 the villagers of Rutten reenact the legend of Saint Evermaire and his seven companions who were murdered in the year 699, when on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The tale of horror--a twelve-hundred-year-old thriller--goes something like this:

    The pious Evermaire and his friends sought lodging at nightfall at a hospitable farmhouse (according to some, a chateau) in the environs of Tongres. The woman who received them was deeply impressed by the obvious sanctity of the eight pilgrims. Consequently she warned them against Hacco, her bandit husband, who was temporarily absent on a raid, but might soon return.

    The weary Evermaire and his comrades slept at the house, but rose at dawn and quietly slipped away on their journey. Hacco, meanwhile, had returned and learned, somehow or other, about his holy guests. He soon tracked them down in the forest nearby, killed the eight men and left their corpses on the ground where they fell.

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« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2009, 01:27:14 pm »

The game of saints and bandits celebrated in Rutten today commemorates the evil Hacco's massacre of Saint Evermaire and the seven good men. For upwards of ten centuries (the play did not start until some two hundred years after the event, we are told) inhabitants of Rutten and their descendants have faithfully presented the drama in all its gory detail.

    At about half past ten in the morning people gather for the religious procession at the Chapel of Saint Evermaire, and march about the casket with the saint's reputed bones. Then the statue of Saint Evermaire is borne aloft, followed by seven men representing the companions, and Saint Evermaire himself, carrying pilgrim staff and wearing knee breeches, white stockings and cockle-shell-embellished cape. A group of wlnged guardian angels follows protectingly.

    Fifty "brigands" riding heavy farm horses are led by Hacco, master villain, who wears a bright jacket with gold buttons. His band of desperados is dressed in white knee-breeches, red jackets and hats with red plumes. In the chapel meadow, where the play is given, the bandits charge furiously upon the holy men. After a good deal of dialogue and hymn singing the saint finally falls dead from an arrow, among the bodies of his slain companions.

PROCESSIE VAN HET HEILIG BLOED (Procession of the Holy Blood), in Bruges (Brugge), province of West Flanders The first Monday after May 2

    The city of Bruges annually holds an imposing procession in honor of the Sacred Blood. The ceremony originated in the year 1150, when Thierry d'Alsace, returning from the Second Crusade, brought to Bruges a phial said to contain a drop of Christ's blood.

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« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2009, 01:27:25 pm »

The sacred relic, preserved in a marvelously wrought gold chasse, or reliquary, is carried in procession from the Chapelle du Saint Sang to the Cathedral of Saint Sauveur. There the chasse is placed upon the altar during the celebration of solemn Pontifical Mass. The bishop reverently lifts the relic for veneration by all before it is again returned to its chapel.

    The procession is composed of many different floats, representing episodes of scriptural and historical interest. Marchers on foot and horseback accompany the tableaux which cover a wide variety of subjects, ranging all the way from Adam and Eve in the Garden to the crucifixion of Jesus. Both marchers and riders weave in and out among the scenes, while talking and singing as if acting parts on the stage.

    In the procession there are also pilgrims, members of church societies and religious orders, trade guilds and representatives of the Brotherhood of Sacred Blood. All groups carry their own banners and insignia. Last of all come the priests and high church dignitaries dressed in elaborate feast day robes and bearing the golden casket with the Sacred Blood. A reverent hush falls over the vast crowd, as spectators sink to their knees. The relic passes. Again the street takes on festival appearance. Church bells ring, street banners flutter, bands plav and all Bruges gives itself over to gaiety and joy.

SINT DYMPHNA or SAINTE DYMPHNE (Saint Dymphna), in Geel, province of Antwerp May 15

    Since the thirteenth century pilgrims have gone to Geel on May 15, to visit the tomb of Saint Dymphna, special guardian of the insane. During her Novena the saint's protection is sought against mental illness. Insane persons, or the friends or relatives who represent them, crawl nine times over Saint Dymphna's reputed sarcophagus, meanwhile invoking her blessing.

    Legend says that Dymphna, daughter of a seventh-century Irish king fled to Geel to escape her pagan father's insane demand for an incestuous marriage. The king pursued his daughter to Geel, where he beheaded her.

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« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2009, 01:27:41 pm »

Gradually people came to regard Dymphna as patroness of the mentally deranged. More and more sick patients were brought to the saint's tomb at Geel and were tenderly looked after by the townsfolk. Eventually a small infirmary was built next to the thirteenth-century Church of Saint Dymphna.

    The fame of the community grew through the centuries until, about 1850, Geel was placed under state medical supervision. Today Colony Geel is noted throughout the world for its humane and remarkably successful "boarding out" system, which cares for two thousand or more harmless mental patients as "paying guests" in homes of the inhabitants of Geel, or of neighboring communities. Provision is made for both pauper and well-to-do cases. All patients enjoy home life, healthful occupation and freedom, under the kindly supervision of carefully selected householders.

DE JEUNER MATRIMONIAL (Matrimonial Tea), in Ecaussines- Lalaing, province of Hainaut Whit Monday

    On this day young unmarried women of Ecaussines-Lalaing hold an amusing "matrimonial tea" in honor of "all the bachelors in the world." The gay event is supposed to have originated centuries ago when bachelors were scarce in the district.

    At nine in the morning all visiting unmarried men are welcomed at the Town Hall and invited to write their names in a big official guest book. Then there are receptions, speeches of welcome by local officials and pretty mesdemoiselles, sightseeing tours, band music, general laughter and merrymaking. Just to walk through the streets is fun because they are gaily decorated with streamers, pennants, and humorous verses appropriate to the occasion.

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« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2009, 01:27:55 pm »

At three in the afternoon the annual tea is announced. The affair is presided over by one of the young women who welcomes the bachelors in the name of her sisters--all the old maids of Ecaussines-Lalaing. The speech, accompanied by much hilarity, is followed by the "tea," which consists of coffee, beer, and special regional sweets.

    Of course, the affair does not end with the tea. Folk-dancing in the streets, band music and merrymaking far into the night, bring this popular festival of youth to a happy climax.

SINT MEDARDUS (Saint Medard)

   The anniversary of Saint Medard, sixth century Bishop of Vermand, is important in peasant weather lore. According to an old folk rhyme, rain on Saint Medard's Day means forty days of wet weather:


S'il pleut le jour de Saint Medard
Il pleut quarante jours plus tard.

SINT JANS VOORAVOND (Saint John's Eve) June 23

    In some places young people dance and sing about bonfires which they light on Saint John's Eve, the longest night in the year.

    Several days before the Eve groups of children go about from farm to farm, begging for firewood with this traditional song:


Wood, wood, lumber wood,
We come to get Saint John's wood.
Give us a little and keep a little
Until the Eve of Saint Peter's Day

    It is an old folk belief that embers from the Saint John's fires will protect homes and barns from fire during the coming year, and jumping over the lighted bonfires is considered an antidote against diseases of the stomach.

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