Sunday, June 17, 2012

Luxarazzi 101: Luxembourg's National Day

[Note: This post reflects Luxembourg's National Day prior to 2014. The Te Deum has since been pushed back to the afternoon hours. Instead an official ceremony takes place at the Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg during the morning hours.]

With the Luxembourg’s national day lurking around later this month, the idea to explain what the whole hoo-ha is all about popped into my head.

“Birthday?!”, you might rightfully ask but indeed, the Nationalfeierdag (national day) actually celebrates the birthday of the Grand Duke or actually rather the birthday of the Grand Duchess. Often called Groussherzoginsgebuertsdag (the Grand Duchess’ birthday), the national day was invented in the way we know it today in 1961, when Grand Duchess Charlotte still reigned over the Grand Duchy but let’s start at the very beginning…

Once upon a time when Luxembourg wasn’t an entirely independent country and instead ruled by the Dutch king who was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the national day was called Kinneksdag (King’s day) and was celebrated on the actual birthday of the reigning monarchs.

The day of celebration being the anniversary of the birth of the ruler continued well into the years when Luxembourg was independent and reigned by members of the Nassau-Weilburg family. Grand Duke Adolphe, Grand Duke Guillaume IV and Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide celebrated on their respective birthdays and so did Grand Duchess Charlotte; until 1961. 

Born on January 23rd, Grand Duchess Charlotte was a winter child. Whoever has experienced a middle European winter knows that it can be moderate to freezing cold or in other words not the best time of the year to have a birthday party including visits to different parts of the country, a military parade, garden parties and celebrations on the streets. Thus, it was decided that the birthday celebrations would be postponed until five months later to June 23rd and so the Groussherzoginsgebuertstag was born and some folks still call it that.

Grand Duchess Charlotte's son Grand Duke Jean agreed with his mother decision and kept the date for the celebrations of his birthday (his actual one is also in January). Since Grand Duke Jean came to the throne the purpose of the day also became a bit broader and thus it became the Grand Duchy's National Day.

While the actual National Day is on June 23rd (next Saturday), much like New Year, the celebrations start the day before with concerts all over the country starting at around noon. The official celebrations kick off with the solemn changing of the guard at the palais in the afternoon hours.

Traditionally, the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess visit a different town every year while the Hereditary Grand Duke visits the country's second largest town Esch-sur-Alzette. During the last years Prince Guillaume was either accompanied by Prince Felix or Princess Alexandra (they also made an appearance together when Guillaume wasn't on hand), so it will be interesting to see whether Countess Stéphanie will make her first big meeting-the-people-of-Luxembourg-appearance on next Friday.

In the evening as soon as it gets dark, a torchlight procession will be held at Luxembourg City. The procession, consisting of firefighters, scouts, clubs and community organisations, will be watched by the Grand Ducal Family. The day will climax with grand fireworks over the Pont Adolphe. The party will end some time in the early morning hours. Probably not for la famille grand-ducale and other public figures as they got another jam-packed day ahead of them.

The actual Nationalfeierdag starts with the Te Deum at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Luxembourg attended by the Grand Ducal Family, politicians, foreign dignitaries, military, the police and probably many more important people. The climax of the thanksgiving service is the "Domine salvum fac magnum ducem nostrum" - "Oh Lord, save our great leader" or something along those lines (oh, sometimes I wish I hadn't quite Latin in school after a single year) for four voices played in a new arrangement every year. For this part of the celebrations all members of the Grand Ducal Family who can make room in their busy agendas are usually present.

After the church service 101 gun salutes are fired from the Fort Thüngen, a part of the historic fortification of the city. Around noon a military parade to honour the Grand Duke and his family is held in the Avenue de la Liberté. Before the actual parade kicks off, the soldiers and policemen will hurrah the grand-duc and the groussherzogliche famille with three "vive"s.

Afterwards more concerts for the ordinary folks are held throughout the city and there're also celebrations especially for children. In the evening the National Day gala including uniforms, gowns and tiaras takes place at the palais. In the days after the National Day there are also garden parties at the Château de Berg.

So now that you know what the Nationalfeierdag is all about, you just have to keep your fingers crossed to see as many members of the family as possible, usually the whole family makes it a priority. Sadly, Prince Felix was notably absent for the last two years so hopefully he'll make an appearance this year and we can also hope for Countess Stéphanie though I'm not sure if she will attend official events in the Grand Duchy before her wedding; the only one apart from the engagement events was the Swedish christening.

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