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Festivals of Western Europe

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Perseus
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« Reply #15 on: April 29, 2009, 01:28:09 pm »

SINT PIETER (Saint Peter) June 29

    In some rural areas peasants recall Saint Peter's martyrdom by building bonfires. Nowadays the custom is gradually disappearing, but some years ago children trundled wheelbarrows from farm to farm in the neighborhood and begged wood for Saint Peter's fires.

    Old and young joined in building the fires, lighted in remembrance of the fire before which Saint Peter warmed himself when he denied Jesus. As flames leaped high, the children danced in a ring, singing:


Saint Peter, come and join us
In our circle of joy.

    Often people light candles on this night and say the rosary in commemoration of Saint Peter.

    Since Saint Peter is patron of fishermen the ceremony of Blessing the Sea is performed each year at Ostend, Blankenberge and other seaport towns, on the Sunday following the saint's day. All fishermen, mariners and others who are exposed to the dangers of water participate in the ceremonies. Following mass a procession of clergy, church dignitaries and seamen carry votive offerings, flowers and garlands to the shore. Then the priests enter the boats and go out to bless the waves.

BOETPROCESSIE VAN VEURNE (Procession of Penitence), in Furnes (Veurne), province of West Flanders Last Sunday in July

    It is said that the annual Procession of Penitence at Furnes originated in 1099, when the Crusader, Count Robert II of Flanders, returned from Jerusalem with a fragment of the True Cross.

    Today's solemn procession features episodes from the Passion story. Some are dramatized by actors playing the parts of various Old and New Testament characters; others by carved wooden figures, mounted on platforms and carried on the shoulders of penitents.

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« Reply #16 on: April 29, 2009, 01:28:22 pm »

Forty or more of the groups are introduced by angels or other characters who recite explanatory verses concerning scenes that are to follow.

    Horse-drawn floats, decorated cars and the colorful banners and standards of the organizing committee all form a part of the impressive procession. But the most moving figures of the spectacle are the black-hooded penitents, many of them barefoot, who bend and stagger under the heavy burden of full-sized wooden crosses. Both men and women are among the penitents. All wear coarse woolen robes and hoods having only slits for eyes. These people are not actors. They are seeking expiation from sin through bearing their crosses, even as Jesus bore his to Calvary.

    Last of all the Sacred Host appears, carried by several bishops. As the Sacrament passes, spectators kneel in adoration. A hush falls over the great crowd. Once the procession has returned to the Church of Saint Walburga from which it issued, however, all Furnes gives itself to the joy of a kermess (fair) in the market place.

MARIA-HEMELVAART DAG (Assumption of the Virgin Mary), in Hasselt, province of Limburg Third and fourth Sundays in August

    In Hasselt, capital of Limburg, the festival of Virga Jesse, Virgin of the Line of Jesse, is celebrated every seven years on the third and fourth Sundays in August. According to tradition, the image of the Virgin once stood in a forest tree, at the crossroads which mark the present site of Hasselt. Travelers left offerings at this shrine and prayed for a safe journey. Gradually reports of the image's miraculous powers spread until, by the fourteenth century, pilgrims from far and wide came to worship at the tree.

    Today the people of Hasselt in solemn procession carry through the town an ancient, blackened image of the Virgin, which they claim once stood in the crossroads tree. The procession proceeds under a series of arches, commemorating various dramatic episodes in the town's history.

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« Reply #17 on: April 29, 2009, 01:28:33 pm »

On Assumption Day (August 15) priests in some other parts of the province bless kruidjes, or bouquets made up of nine different kinds of flowers. Pious peasants preserve these bouquets throughout the year. At the approach of a bad storm they pull off a few flower petals and toss them into the fire, as everyone kneels and recites the opening lines of the Gospel according to Saint John.

LES VEPRES DE GOUYASSE (Marriage of Goliath), in Ath, province of Hainaut

    Practically every Belgian town and village has its giants, which are paraded through the streets on special occasions during the year. The annual wedding of Goliath, at Ath, is one of the most spectacular of these affairs. Many of the towering figures, which measure upwards of twenty feet, represent various biblical, historical or legendary characters. A man walks inside the figure, a peephole in front allowing him to get air, as well as to look out and see where he is going.

    Ath boasts many giants, which appear on different occasions. On the Saturday before the fourth Sunday in August the great event is the procession of Goliath, who, for centuries, has been the town's patron and protector. Goliath, wearing helmet and breastplate and carrying a mighty club, is accompanied to the Church of Saint Julien by Madame Goliath, who has long black tresses adorned with orange blossoms. The bride and bridegroom are escorted by other giants, including Samson bearing a broken column, a figure representing Mademoiselle Victoire, in gold crown and voluminous cape, and a hideous, mustachioed Ambiorix.

    In 1461 in the procession known as that of Saint Julien, a giant figure was introduced for the first time. As the years went by other figures were added from time to time by various local guilds. Among other characters there was the symbolic one Tiran, or Tyrant, who may have represented Ambiorix, leader of a Gaulish tribe.
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« Reply #18 on: April 29, 2009, 01:28:49 pm »

The procession of giants, accompanied by colorful floats representing symbolic and historical events, proceeds through the streets to the Church of Saint Julien. There Goliath and his bride remain standing on either side of the portals while the town officials enter the church for the singing of les vepres de Gouyasse.

    Following the religious ceremony the procession goes to the Gran' Place where the battle of David and Goliath is enacted by the recitation of traditional verses between David and Goliath. The play ends with this classic line spoken by Goliath:

    Je n'sus nieu co mort! "I am not dead yet!"

ALLER-HEILIGEN DAG (All Saints' Day) November 1

    On this day prayers are said in memory of all the saints who are not mentioned in the calendar. Toward evening the All Souls' Eve services begin. People visit cemeteries, decorate the graves with flowers and wreaths and light candles in memory of the deceased.

    The next day people eat special "All Souls'" cakes. According to one old superstition, "the more cakes you eat on this night, the more souls you can save from Purgatory."

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« Reply #19 on: April 29, 2009, 01:29:10 pm »

SINT HUBERTUS VAN LUIK or SAINT HUBERT DE LIEGE (Saint Hubert of Liege), in St.-Hubert, province of Luxemburg November 3

    Saint Hubert, patron of dogs, the chase, and victims of hydrophobia, is especially honored in the Ardennes, where he is said to have experienced a miraculous vision. On his feast day people throughout the forest area near the little town of St.-Hubert bring their dogs to the Church of Saint Hubert for the priest to bless and sprinkle with holy water.

    The custom originated in a seventh-century legend about Hubert, a pleasure-loving, profligate young nobleman who devoted himself to the chase, to complete neglect of all church festivals. One Good Friday, when hunting in the Ardennes, he suddenly saw a pure white stag, with an illumined crucifix gleaming between his antlers. The supposed spot of this vision (which affected Hubert so powerfully that he renounced the world, became a monk, and eventually Bishop of Liege) is marked by a chapel on the farm of "La Converserie," about five miles from St.-Hubert.

    By the time of Hubert's death in 727, he was famed throughout the countryside for piety and good works. Saint Hubert's tomb (though not his bones, which once were hidden from enemy invaders and eventually lost) is in the Church of St.-Hubert. Annually thousands of devout pilgrims visit the shrine. In the church are reputed relics of the saint, including both hunting-horn and mantle. Even a shred of the latter, when placed on the head, is thought to cure sufferers from hydrophobia.

    Throughout Belgium many churches are dedicated to the saint. Saint Hubert's Mass on November 3, officially opens the hunting season. In some places housewives prepare special loaves of bread which are blessed at the early morning mass. The bread is then carried home, the sign of the cross is made, and everyone breaks fast by eating a piece of the blessed loaf. People feed the bread to dogs, horses and other animals as a protection against rabies throughout the year. According to an old folk-jingle:


I came all the way from Saint Hubert's grave,
Without stick, without staff,
Mad dogs stand still!
This is Saint Hubert's will.
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« Reply #20 on: April 29, 2009, 01:29:26 pm »

SINT MAARTENS DAG (Saint Martin's Day) November 11

    Saint Martin is a popular saint to whom over four hundred Belgian churches are dedicated. His day is greatly anticipated by Belgian boys and girls, who celebrate the festival with processions, bonfires and general merrymaking.

    In some part of the country Saint Martin, like Saint Nicholas, calls in person on the feast day Eve and brings gifts to the children.

    If the boys and girls have been good he bestows apples and goodies; but if they have been bad he suggestively throws a whip on the floor.

    On the saint's day handfuls of apples and nuts are often tossed into the room while the boys and girls stand with faces turned toward the wall. In Veurne, Bruges and some other towns children carrying lighted lanterns march through the streets at nightfall. The young people sing Saint Martin songs and ask for gifts of goodies. Gauffres, little waffle-like cakes, are particularly popular on Saint Martin's Day.

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« Reply #21 on: April 29, 2009, 01:29:40 pm »

SINT NIKOLAAS VOORAVOND or LA VEILLE DE SAINT NICOLAS (Saint Nicholas' Eve) December 5

    Children write annual letters to Saint Nicholas, the invisible gift-giver, whose black Moorish servant slips down the chimney on this night and leaves toys in the empty shoes set by the fireplace. The child's father always promises to post the letters because he alone knows how to reach the saint.

    Saint Nicholas rides a donkey and is attended by his assistant. The saint sees everything. He knows everything, but no child has ever seen or known him. The children leave carrots and pieces of bread in the chimney corner for Saint Nicholas' donkey who surely will be hungry from journeying across village housetops.

    In the evening parents and children sit close to the fire and tell stories about the life and works of Saint Nicholas, third century Bishop of Myra, who traditionally wears rich robes, gold miter, and an enormous bishod's ring on the left hand. The saint is the friend of all children, but special patron of little boys because of his legendary restoration to life of three small lads, whom a wicked inn-keeper killed, salted down in brine and then served for dinner.

    The children sing charming little songs in their saint's honor. Suddenly a shower of sweets flies through the door. Boys and girls scurry around under tables and chairs to capture their share of booty; but by the time the last bonbon is found, Saint Nicholas has vanished.

    The following day youngsters rise early and run to the chimney to see what the saint has left for them during the night. The shoes contain special treats such as an orange, a piece of marzipan, flat hard cakes known as klaasjes, perhaps an almond-filled letterbanket, or initial of the child's name. Speculaus, a kind of hard spicy gingerbread molded in the form of Saint Nicholas, is a seasonal delicacy all children anticipate. Often there are useful gifts, besides, such as a hand-knit sweater, a pair of bright warm mittens, a gay woolen muffler, or even a suit or pretty frock.

KERSTDAG (Christmas) December 25

    Christmas is a religious season observed by attending special services in the churches and wishing friends and neighbors a Merry Christmas. After midnight mass, the whole family gathers about the Christmas log to celebrate la veille de Noel (Christmas Eve). Ghost stories and tales are told, old ballads sung, and gin freely passed. Sometimes the gIn is lighted as the log falls to ashes. Many popular superstitions exist regarding Christmas Eve when, according to peasant belief, water turns to wine and people can look into the future.

    Children await Christmas morning eagerly. If they are good and have said their prayers faithfully throughout the year, the Angel Gabriel or, in some places, the Child Jesus, is thought to slip an engelskoek (angel's cake), a kind of a bun, under the pillows of sleeping boys and girls.

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« Reply #22 on: April 29, 2009, 01:29:51 pm »

ALLERKINDERENDAG (Holy Innocents' Day) December 28

    December 28 is the traditional anniversary of the slaughter of Bethlehem's innocent children by Herod, who wished to be sure of killing the Infant Jesus. According to popular legend two of the unfortunate children were found buried in the Convent of Saint Gerard, in the province of Namur. In Belgium, as in some other countries, Holy Innocents' Day eventually became a time when children were allowed to play all sorts of tricks on their elders.

    In some places children try to put adults under lock and key and make them buy themselves out of bondage. Early in the morning the "innocents" attempt to get possession of all keys in the house. Whenever an unsuspecting grown-up enters a closet or room, he may unexpectedly find himself a prisoner. His freedom is not restored until he pays the forfeit the boys or girls demand--an orange, a toy, spending money, a sweet--the ransom varying with his keeper's whim. The adult who is held for ransom is called the "sugar uncle" or "sugar aunt."

SINT SYLVESTER VOORAVOND or LA SAINT SYLVESTRE (New Year's Eve) December 31

    "Sylvester" is the nickname popularly applied to the lazy boy or girl who rises last on the final day of the year. Since "Sylvesters" traditionally have to pay a forfeit to their brothers and sisters, each child tries to be first to bound out of bed on the morning of December 31.

    Girls, especially, try to be industrious on this day because of the old saying that one who does not finish her handwork by sunset will remain an old maid throughout the year.

    All over Belgium the reveillon, or New Year's Eve family party, is a gay event. At midnight everyone kisses, exchanges good wishes for a Happy New Year and drinks toasts to absent relatives and friends. In the cities, cafes and restaurants are crowded with pleasure-seekers who eat, drink, and bid a noisy farewell to the Old Year.



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« Reply #23 on: April 29, 2009, 01:30:17 pm »

2 FESTIVALS OF DENMARK
NYTARSDAG (New Year's Day) January 1

    In towns and cities throughout Denmark the New Year marks the beginning of one of the most important social events in the calendar. Men and women attend church services and later call on relatives and friends to wish them a Happy New Year. The conventional call lasts for about a half hour and the customary refreshments consist of wine and small cookies. The exchange of visits is carried on for about a fortnight.

HELLIG-TRE-KONGERS-DAG (Day of the Three Holy Kings) January 6

    Hellig-Tre-Kongers-Dag, the twelfth day after Christmas, brings the festive season to an official end. The Christmas tree is dismantled, all greens are taken from the house and the Christmas ornaments packed away for another year.

    This is the night when young girls traditionally play fortunetelling games. One time-honored method for a girl to decide her fate is to walk backward, throw a shoe over her left shoulder and pray the Holy Kings to reveal the future. The man who subsequently appears in her dreams will be her future husband.

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« Reply #24 on: April 29, 2009, 01:30:32 pm »

FJORTENDE FEBRUAR (Fourteenth of February) February 14

    On this day school children exchange friendship tokens, which consist of pressed snowdrops accompanied by original verses. The sender signs the gaekkebrev, or joking letter, with a series of dots--one dot standing for each letter in the name. When the boy who receives the gaekkebrev guesses the sender's name correctly, the girl is expected to reward him at Easter with a chocolate or sugar egg. If, on the contrary, the boy fails to decipher the name, he is expected to pay the forfeit.

FASTELAVN (Shrovetide) The Monday preceding Ash Wednesday

    Fastelavn, the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday, is a general school holiday and one of the gayest times of year for boys and girls. Everybody celebrates the day by eating Fastelavnsboller, or Shrovetide buns, which are as important in youthful games and customs as in festive adult menus.

    In some places children armed with "Lenten birches," or branches decorated with brightly colored paper flowers, rise at four or five in the morning, enter the rooms of parents or grandparents and waken them by beating the bedclothes with their switches. "Give buns, give buns, give buns," the children shout, meanwhile inflicting resounding smacks with their branches. From the mysterious depths of the covers the "sleeping" grown-ups always produce the traditional Fastelavnsboller (and sometimes even candy), with which the youthful tormentors customarily are rewarded. Possibly this custom survives from ancient times when the "Easter smacks," delivered in many lands at this season, were regarded as part of an early spring purification rite.

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« Reply #25 on: April 29, 2009, 01:30:44 pm »

In both town and rural communities older children dress up in fancy costumes and fantastic masks and make neighborhood rounds, singing for buns and rattling collection boxes:


Buns up, buns down,
Buns for me to chew!
If no buns you give
I'll rattle till you do!

chant the youngsters, jingling the boxes in which they collect coins for a Fastelavn feast.

    At this season there are many parties at which children play different kinds of bun games. A favorite stunt is to suspend a bun from the chandelier by a string. Everybody takes turns at trying to get a bite of the tempting morsel when the string is set in motion. The one who succeeds gets the bun as prize.

    An old Danish Shrovetide game which adults play extensively even in modern times, is called Sla Katten al Tonden, or "knocking the cat out of the barrel." Often an artificial cat (originally a live one) is enclosed in a suspended wooden barrel--decorated with paper flowers, painted with cat pictures. Each player, armed with a wooden stick, takes a mighty swing at the barrel. The one succeeding in smashing it is proclaimed "Cat King" and receives a prize.

    In some Danish seaport towns the Fastelavn boat is a feature of the season's festivities. A great boat manned by twelve seamen is placed on a truck drawn by several horses and paraded through the streets. Horn players sit beside the driver. A seaman carrying the national flag announces the approach of the truck, which is followed by members of the Seamen's Guild.

    The unique procession halts frequently during its progress through the town. "The ship is coming! The ship is coming!" shout the townsfolk. The musicians play and the men dance. Contributions are collected for sick and needy seamen.
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« Reply #26 on: April 29, 2009, 01:31:00 pm »

PASKE (Easter)

    After the Easter morning services the day is spent quietly at home. For children Easter means eggs to eat and eggs for games. In South Jutland boys and girls rise early and hunt in the garden for "hare's nests." When found, the children shriek with joy since the hares have a way of leaving not only dyed hens' eggs but eggs of chocolate and sugar which sometimes are decorated with delectable pink and yellow frosting roses. In some places children have contests with dyed eggs, which they roll down hill. The boy or girl whose egg goes the longest distance without breaking wins his opponent's egg and retains his own.

ANDEN PASKEDAG (Second Easter Day) The day after Easter

    This is a general holiday. Stores are closed and in the cities all places of amusemetit, such as theatres, concert halls, clubs and restaurants, are crowded to capacity.

VALBORGSAFTEN (Walpurgis Eve) April 30

    In Jutland, bonfires are built on the hilltops on Walpurgis Eve, for this is the time when superstitious folk say witches and demons ride broomsticks through the air to hold rendezvous with the Devil at the Brocken, in the Harz. According to old belief, the lighted fires prevent the evil spirits from stopping on their way and harming man and beast. Be this as it may, the bonfires make a happy excuse for merrymaking on May Day Eve. Old and young dance and sing about the fires which, incidentally, serve to dispose of a great deal of useless trash accumulated during the winter months.

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« Reply #27 on: April 29, 2009, 01:31:14 pm »

Customs vary from parish to parish. In most places, Saint John's or Midsummer, rather than Watpurgis Eve, is the traditional time for building bonfires.

STORE BEDEDAG (Great Prayer Day) The fourth Friday after Easter

    This day of prayer dates back to the time of Christian VII, when his worldly Prime Minister, Count Johann Friedrich von Struensee, decided upon one great day of prayer as a substitute for the many holy days which the Church observed.

    Bells in every church announce the eve of Store Bededag. In olden days it was customary for Copenhagen burghers to greet the spring by putting on new clothes and strolling along the city ramparts. Then they went home and ate varme hveder, a kind of small square wheat bread, served piping hot. Today people still eat the traditional bread. They still dress in spring finery but, instead of walking along the ramparts, they promenade on the famous Langelinie, or boulevard which faces Copenhagen's water front.

    On Store Bededag stores and places of business are closed and special church services held.

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« Reply #28 on: April 29, 2009, 01:31:26 pm »

PINSE (Pentecost, or Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter

    Pentecost or Whitsun is the great spring holiday. For weeks beforehand housewives are scrubbing, scouring and putting everything to rights. Tailors are busy, too, because Whitsun is the traditional time for new summer clothes. Since beech trees are beginning to bud at this season many Copenhagen residents go by bicycle to woods and forests and gather armfuls of tender young branches. These boughs are used to decorate the houses--in symbol of welcome to early spring.

    According to an old folk saying, "the sun dances on Pinse morning." Townsfolk, as well as country people rise at dawn to witness this miracle. In Copenhagen it is customary to get up early and go to Frederiksberg hill to watch the sun rise and "see it dance." According to custom, coffee, which is served in the garden, must be on the table by six o'clock, although the sun is up long before that hour.

    Anden Pinsedag, or Whit Monday, is a general holiday. People make excursions to the woods for picnics or go to rural restaurants for an outdoor party and a good country meal, followed by dancing and singing. Indeed, singing is an important feature of most celebrations, as this is the day when singing society members, accompanied by wives and children, make all kinds of rural expeditions.

SANKT HANS AFTEN (Saint John's Eve) June 23

    Midsummer Eve--the longest night in the year--is universally celebrated with merrymaking, rejoicing and building enormous fires on the hills. Folk dancing, speeches and singing make this night a memorable occasion for young and old.

    Often bonfires are topped by old tar barrels or other inflammable materials. Sometimes, also, the effigy of a witch (doubtless a pagan symbol of Winter or Death) crowns the immense pile of wood and rubbish. As flames mount, lighting the sky for miles about, the pre-Christian drama of the conquest of darkness by light is unconsciously reenacted; for on Midsummer Day the sun reaches its highest point in the heavens.

    In coast hamlets blazing fires are made along the shore, and people going out in boats to view the bonfires sing romantic songs in honor of the beautiful summer night.

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« Reply #29 on: April 29, 2009, 01:31:41 pm »

MORTENSAFTEN (Saint Martin's Eve) November 10

    Saint Martin's Eve, coming at the season when crops are gathered and geese are fat, is celebrated in the homes with a family dinner. Harvest foods and roast goose, traditional to the occasion, are eaten in many homes.

    As one informant explained, "Legend says Saint Martin was hiding in a barn when a stupid goose gave his presence away by quacking. That's why the bird lost his neck and we eat him on Mortensaften!"

JULEAFTEN (Christmas Eve) December 24

    Christmas, the season of good will and rejoicing, is the greatest holiday in the Danish calendar. For weeks in advance farmers' wives turn their houses upside down in a frenzy of floor scrubbing, brass polishing, laying in huge supplies and baking dozens of traditional cakes, cookies and fancy breads. On "Little Christmas Eve," December 23, it is customary in many places to make enough apple fritters to last over the next three days.

    Farmers are busy, too, since they must tidy up everything outdoors as well as in the barns and stables. Horses, cows and sheep all receive extra food and care for, according to ancient folk belief, the manger animals stand at midnight in honor of Jesus' birth. A sheaf of grain, tied to a pole and erected in the garden, provides holiday fare for the wild birds. Even city apartment dwellers do not forget to tie bunches of grain to the balconies at this season.

    In couutry places the farmer traditionally makes the sign of the cross over ploughs and harrows and places them under cover. Should the "Shoemaker of Jerusalem" or, as some say, the Wandering Jew, find any unblessed or uncovered implements lying about, he would sit down and rest, thus bringing bad luck to the farmer.

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