The fact that we’re living in a foreign country often fades into the background of our lives, but sometimes I’m sharply reminded of it, particularly when traditions we’ve known since childhood aren’t part of the culture here.
I was sad at the start of November when I realised the (obvious-when-you-think-about-it) fact that Luxembourgers aren’t particularly interested in Guy Fawkes’s failed attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament. As far as I can work out, fireworks are only tolerated here on New Year’s Eve, so I missed my sparklers, which I’d always thought of simply as a way of bringing light into dark autumn nights. Now that I’ve gone through the process of thinking about why Luxembourgers don’t light bonfires on 5th November, I suspect that I may have trouble enjoying the celebrations in future without associating them with torture, execution & religious intolerance… A week later, I also missed seeing poppies worn everywhere in the run up to Armistice Day. You only have to look at local street names to see that Luxembourg, which was occupied in both world wars, actively commemorates its wartime history, but it was another jolt to be reminded that the British Legion symbol is not universal, and so I failed to wear my usual bouquet (my most colourful year to date featured red, white, and purple poppies).
Although I’ve missed some old traditions, I’m discovering some lovely new ones: we had a wonderful family afternoon out in October at the annual apple picking festival in a local village orchard, followed by a happy couple of weeks of crumble eating. The children loved the fairground rides at the Christmas markets in town, and we had some early Christmas excitement when ‘de Kleeschen‘ (Saint Nicholas) visited on 6th December and left gifts for the children in return for a carrot for his donkey. We weren’t committed enough to embrace all of Luxembourg’s Christmas customs though – after one packet of Lebkuchen we gave up and resorted to Mr Kipling mince pies from the British import store…One thing I’m still completely perplexed by, however, is this matchbox that my daughter brought home from school today. As she also came home with a crown she’d decorated, I’m guessing it’s a traditional Luxembourgish gift associated with Epiphany, but what is the significance of the coin, the clover, and the gemstone? [Update: I asked her teacher & the contents were apparently chosen to represent good luck for the New Year, so it’s no wonder I was struggling to find a religious meaning to them…!]
Whether old or new, familiar or mysterious, for me seasonal traditions and family rituals are important in creating positive memories together. Some of ours are newly invented or borrowed: I had so much fun helping my three year old son to bake his own birthday cake that I think this may become a family tradition, and this year I was inspired by the idea of Kindness Elves to buy a couple of little elves of our own and have them leave a few notes around the house for the children to find, with the aim of steering our Christmas preparations in a slightly less acquisitive direction. As I do every New Year, I also jotted down some notes on the year just gone over the last few days, and was pleased to find that as well as the obvious challenges associated with an international move, there was much to celebrate. Here’s to more happy memory-making in 2016!