Article by Jean Ensch
All Souls’ Day (Allerséilen) on November 2, following All Saints’ Day (Allerhellegen), is, liturgically speaking, the day of Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. In Luxembourg, this is a moment to congregate for the ceremony of the blessing of the graves. “One day in the year is reserved for the dead” commented Luxembourg ethnologist Joseph Hess. All Souls’ Day originated sometime before 1024 at the Burgundian abbey of Cluny and was first introduced in 1345 in the archdiocese of Trier, which Luxembourg then was part of.
Traditionally, after Vespers, the congregation would gather around their respective family plot at the nearby cemetery. The priest would address the assembled faithful with appropriate remarks and after some prayers for the dead; he would walk through the alley and sprinkle the graves with holy water.
For that occasion the tombstones are getting cleaned and decorated with flowers or wreaths. Typically, the flowers would be white incurve chrysanthemums. In some European countries they symbolize death and are particularly used for funerals or on graves. They usually blossom in late summer and early fall. For both these symbolic and seasonal reasons the potted chrysanthemums are also referred to in Luxembourgish as Allerhellegestack.(All Saints’ plant).
In the wine growing Moselle area, that was also the occasion to taste the new wine harvested that year, after returning home from the cemetery.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Traditions, reputed to be change resistant, are not carved in stone, though; and All Saints’ Day is no exception to that.
Already in the early years of the 20th century, there was a tendency to advance the blessing of the graves to the preceding day: All Saints’ Day. Within one day, the solemnities in honor of all Saints (liturgical color white) veer into a more somber mood when mourning and remembering the dear departed (liturgical color black). Although, locally, there are still blessings on All Souls’ Day, a large majority of the ceremonies take place on November 1st. Due to the shortage of priests, many of whom have to tend to several congregations, celebration of Vespers have become increasingly rare.
A more secular reason for advancing the grave blessing ceremony is the fact the All Saint’s Day is a legal holiday, whereas All Souls’ Day is not. Considering that nowadays people tend to move more often and live further away from their native village, this allows them to drive to their ancestral town to attend the ceremonies. That is why on the afternoon of this holiday, where normally traffic would be non-existent or light, many cars are on the roads, and traffic jams can be witnessed in the vicinity of larger city cemeteries.
Chrysanthemums are more and more falling out of fashion. Grown in green houses to be ready for the November days, they are not very weather resistant and tend to wilt at the first cold night. Gardeners now offer more resilient flowers and arrangements, containing heather for example.
A more commercial aspect of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days was introduced in the early 20th century, both in Luxembourg and Germany, and which is called Mantelsonndeg (Coat Sunday). On the preceding Sunday the clothes shops were open in Luxembourg City. The purpose was to give the rural population the opportunity to come to town to buy a warm coat for the upcoming ceremonies and the winter season. It was dimly viewed by the church, though, as it was considered a breach of the Sunday rest. Whereas today, when stores are still closed on most Sundays, the Mantelsonndeg has remained and even expanded into a shopping Sunday spanning all stores. Detractors also claim that the gathering at the cemetery is just a vanity fair, an occasion to show off the newly purchased fur coat.
Halloween (All Hallows Eve), with trick-or-treat activities cherished by the kids, has never been a Luxembourg tradition. In recent years, though, the shops increasingly have Halloween-themed decorations and also sell the corresponding costumes. Luxembourg having a culturally diverse population, many expats’ children go from house to house of fellow countrymen claiming their treats.
Some elements of Halloween do exist in Luxembourg, albeit at another date and in another context.
The pumpkin of the jack-o’-lantern is corresponding in Luxembourg to the Trauliicht, a hollowed out turnip with a face carved into it and containing a burning candle. Such a Trauliicht could be seen in fall in the villages (on All Saints’ Day and St. Martin’s Day on November 11), allegedly with the purpose of chasing the bad spirits that the grazing livestock carried with them when they were driven back into the stables for the winter. Other folkloric researchers considered the carving of the Trauliicht as a mere prank to scare the faint-hearted. The etymology goes back to the Germanic word Truglicht (deceiving light), and that is the second meaning of the Traulicht in Luxembourgish, namely will-o’-the-wisp. Those atmospheric ghost lights moving over marshy areas were alleged to deceive and misguide nightly wanderers into the marshes. Popular belief also considered them to be revenants of murdered persons, criminals or unbaptized children, so the proximity in time to All Souls’ Day is self-explanatory.
Liichtmëssdag, (Candlemas) on the 2nd of February, which is the eve of St. Blaise, is the day when children, carrying a Liichtebengelchen (a stick with a burning candle or a wick at the top) move from house to house begging for sweets, and singing the traditional song “Léiwer Herrgottsblieschen” (Blieschen being a diminutive of Blaise). St. Blaise is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and is invoked as the patron saint against throat diseases, ulcers and plague. In the traditional song text of the “Léiwer Herrgottsblieschen” the children claim Speck an Ierbessen (bacon and peas). Luckily for them, they get candies and sweets in our days. The stick has also evolved and the candle has been replaced by a light bulb and a colorful lantern. The origins go back to pre-Christian times. It is now associated with Saint Blaise and the lights are supposed to remind that Christ, the light of the world, brings brightness into the dark.
 Joseph Hess, Luxemburger Volkskunde, 1929, 275
 Andreas Heinz, Errette mich, Herr, von der Wegen zur Hölle in: Ewiger Ruhe? Concession à perpétuité?, Luxembourg, 2019, 215-216