Book: Festivals of Western Europe
Author: Dorothy Gladys Spicer

Festivals of Western Europe By Dorothy Gladys Spicer

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 219
Publication Date: 1958

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This book includes descriptions of some of the principal festival events of twelve different countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and Switzerland.

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The fact that both French and Dutch are spoken in Belgium accounts for the mixture of the two languages in the place names and descriptions of Belgian festivals.

NIEUWJAARSDAG (New Year's Day) January 1

For weeks before New Year's Day children begin saving their pennies to buy gaily decorated papers for writing holiday greetings to parents and god-parents. Often these papers are prettily embellished with motifs such as golden cherubs and angels, brightly-colored roses or ribbon-tied garlands. The children practice composing and writing their letters in school, until a final perfect, or nearly perfect, copy can be made on the fancy paper. Then they carefully hide the messages from their parents.

On New Year's morning the children read their little compositions before the assembled family. Not only do they wish health and happiness in the coming year; they promise to mend naughty ways and behave like angels during the next twelve months.

In the Walloon district of Liege children go about from house to house, or stop passers-by on the streets, to wish them a Happy New Year and offer nules, large wafers which are decorated with raised imprints of the crucifix. The children receive coins in exchange for the wafers, which people keep during the year as charms against evil and disease. Walloon and Flemish farmers still observe the charming custom of rising early on January first and going out to stables and pens to say "Happy New Year" to the horses, cows, pigs and other domestic animals.

DRIEKONIGENDAG (Three Kings' Day) January 6

Three Kings' Day, the great festival of boys and girls, usually is celebrated with a party and a gateau des rois, or cake of the Kings. A bean baked inside the cake bestows royalty for the day on the child who finds it in his portion. The King chooses a Queen. Crowned with gold paper crowns and robed in finery borrowed from mother's scrap bag, the youthful sovereigns rule the merry party. Whatever the King and Queen do must be imitated by everyone else.

Often bands of children go from door to door singing ditties about the Kings and receiving coins in return. One favorite rhyme is:

Three Kings, Three Kings,
Give me a new hat.
My old one is worn out.
Mother must not know it:
Father counted the money on the grille!

SINT GUDULE or SAINTE GEDULE (Saint Gudule), Brussels, province of Brabant January 8

The anniversary of Saint Gudule, patroness of Brussels, is observed with great solemnity at the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudule. According to tradition Saint Gudule is buried in the cathedral.

Legend says that the seventh-century saint, who was noted for piety, used to walk barefoot several miles, morning and evening, to attend Mass at the church of Morzelle. One day, when on the way to early service, the devil extinguished her lantern. As the young girl knelt and prayed for help, an angel rekindled it. The story explains why the saint always is represented accompanied by an angel, who is lighting her lantern.

Many miracles are attributed to Saint Gudule who died at Nivelles (Nijvel) in 712.


Saint Gregory the Great, the sixth-century monk who became a pope, is patron of school children and scholars. On his feast day boys and girls take a holiday in honor of this pious saint to whom popular legend attributes many kind acts. One is that he freed frogs from the ice of early spring; another that he loved beggars, whom he deferentially called "Father" and fed at his own table with food served on golden plates.

School children rise early on March 12. Dressed as "little soldiers of Saint Gregory," they take a big basket for gifts and parade through the streets, singing an old song. A noisy drummer announces the approach of the little procession. Pope Gregory himself, in gaudy vestments and gold paper crown, is attended by standard-bearers and followers arrayed in colorful odds and ends of cotton, velvet or silk. The little girls of the procession wear big bright shoulder bows, which capricious March winds snatch at and billow out like butterfly wings.

A troop of angels is one of the procession's traditional features, possibly because of the legend that once, when Gregory was walking through the slave market at Rome, he saw for sale a group of comely heathen youths from Britain. Upon learning their nationality Gregory exclaimed, "Were they but Christians, they would truly be angeli [angels], not Angli [Anglo-Saxons]!"