In Luxembourg it can be hard to say what a truly Luxembourgish Christmas looks like. Over the past decades, in line with growing multi-culturalisation, traditions have disappeared or merged with others and new ones have formed. As a consequence, even the true Lëtzebuerger (in itself sometimes a difficult concept to explain) might find it hard to describe what a Luxembourgish Christmas entails.
Although the traditions tied to St. Nicolas are less in flux, the myth behind the Saint, Kléeschen, and his follower, Houséker, and how the Luxringer (still a Thüringer) plays a central role in the whole setup, might not be widely known.
The 4th century St. Nicolas, also known as Nikolaos of Myrra or as Nikolaos the “Wonder worker”, who would gladly fill shoes left outside with coins, is said to have found his obedient servant by accident.
Legend has it that a family on their way to the market became separated. The three boys wandered helplessly about until they met a seemingly nice man, a butcher by trade, who lured the children back to his shop where he was planning to kill them and make them into sausages.
As if by miracle, St Nicolas heard the children cry and promptly came to their rescue. He freed the boys, and, in order to punish the butcher, he condemned him to be his servant for the rest of his life (Nikolaos wasn’t a violent man) bearing the name: Houséker.
The story is still told on the evening before St Nicolas to remind children of how grateful they should be, and ensure that they will leave nice drawings, beautiful poems or other tokens of appreciation in their shoe for St. Nicholas to find and replace by a gift or two. Previously, St. Nicolas would be the only day in December when kids would receive gifts. Nowadays, December 25 is thought to be the big gift-exchanging day.
Interestingly, the Dutch St Nicolas is called Sinterklaas and is thought to be Santa Claus’ predecessor. In Luxembourg, Christmas presents are, however, not brought by Kléeschen or Santa Claus but by the baby Jesus, who will leave them under the tree during the night between the 24th and 25th, although the custom differs from home to home.
On Christmas Eve family and friends gather for an “apéro”, a talk and a light meal around the Christmas tree, which has often been part of the holiday decoration since St. Nicholas’ visit weeks before. On the 24th, some families go to Midnight Mass, and in certain homes the presents can be opened after returning from church.
Christmas Day is the central day of the holidays, allowing children to open their gifts and where families and friends gather for a large meal around noon. Tradition says that the meal should consist of “ Träipen mat Gromperenzalot” (a kind of black pudding with potato salad), but it’s just as often composed of a hare stew, venison or any dish the family sees fit.
Afterwards, it’s common to go for a long walk in order to prepare for next day’s Christmas lunch with friends and family.
But, maybe you disagree or have something else to add. Let us know what you think a traditional Luxembourg Christmas involves.