Buergbrennen (Buergsonndeg) Date in the current year: February 18, 2024

Buergbrennen (Buergsonndeg) Buergbrennen, also known as Buergsonndeg, is a traditional bonfire festival that takes place on Quadragesima Sunday (the first Sunday of Lent) in Luxembourg and surrounding areas of Belgium, Germany, and France. It is meant to celebrate the transition from winter of spring.

Like many other springtime festivals, Buergbrennen originates from pagan rituals associated with the vernal equinox in the Northern hemisphere (March 21). As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the celebration was moved to the first Sunday of Lent, known as Quadragesima Sunday, in order to transform the pagan holiday into a Christian one. Quadragesima Sunday may fall between February 8 and March 14, depending on the date of Easter.

The word “Buergbrennen” may seem like it’s derived from the word “burgh”, which means “castle” or “fortress”, but this is not the case. The first part of the word, “buerg”, originates from the Latin verb burere (“to burn”). The second part, “brennen” is a German verb that has exactly the same meaning. When the holiday was moved to Quadragesima Sunday, it acquired the second name, Buergsonndeg, where the second part means “Sunday” in Luxembourgish.

Luxembourg’s neighboring states have their own names for the holiday. It is called Burgbrennen in Germany, Hüttenbrenne or Schafssonntag in the Eifel region of Germany and Belgium, dimanche des Brandons in France and the French-speaking part of Belgium, and Les Failles or Les Alouilles in some Swiss cantons.

Back in the day, Buergbrennen was a celebration reserved solely for men; women were allowed to participate in exceptional circumstances. According to tradition, the most recently wedded man was given the honor of lighting the bonfire. However, this was both an honor and a responsibility: he had to collect wood for the fire or pay others to do it for him, and at the end of the festivities, he was expected to entertain fellow villagers, either at home or in a local inn.

The tradition began to dwindle in the 19th century due to high associated costs, but in the 20th century local authorities of Luxembourg’s villages revived it and took responsibility for the preparations and expenses. Of course, from that moment on women were allowed to participate, too. Today, about three quarters of villages in Luxembourg celebrate Buergbrennen, but the tradition is gradually losing popularity in Belgium, Germany, France, and Switzerland.

The arrangements for the festival are usually made by the local authorities and youth organizations (for example, Scouts). They collect wood (in some regions, it is customary to burn old Christmas trees), make a bonfire and cover it with hay so that it burns better. In some villages, people make a hay cross and place it in the center of the bonfire. Other villages use the bonfire to burn the remains of this year’s Carnival floats.

The celebration usually starts with a torchlight procession. After the procession, the bonfire is lit; some villages honor the old tradition by offering a recently married couple to light the fire.

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Buergbrennen, Buergsonndeg, folk festival, bonfire festival, festivals in Luxembourg, Quadragesima Sunday