Luxembourg has a hopping festival

A girl is seen hopping. | BBC Photo

Courtesy of the BBC.

Yep, there’s a tradition in the town of Echternach where 10,000 people hop through the town to polka music. Nearly 40,000 people flock to the town to watch these hoppers.

Now that’s what I call a crazy night on the town. These people are definitely my people.

Nina Lamparski of the BBC has a great article on the tradition that was just published today on the festival. But why do Luxembourgers gather in Echternach to hop up and down the village’s streets?

The hero of the occasion is St Willibrord, the so-called Apostle of Benelux, an Anglo-Saxon missionary from Ripon in North Yorkshire, who is credited with driving paganism out of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in the 8th Century.

In addition to banishing paganism with the zealotry of St. Patrick booting snakes out of Ireland, many believe St. Willibrord has a divine knack for curing people of sickness.

“They thought Willibrord was a healer – the pilgrimage was a form of asking for protection, hoping that would get rid of sickness and misfortune,” says Pierre Kauthen of the Willibrord Society

The dance is old; Willbrord was busy preaching against paganism around the 8th century, and his followers started hopping during the Middle Ages. At first the church was hesitant about such folklorish festivities, but it eventually incorporated the event into its own ecclesiastical schedule.

According to the article, Theo Peporte, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Luxembourg, says learning the dance takes only “10 seconds.” But the hard part is staying synchronized with fellow hoppers.

As fun and harmless as hopping might seem, several attempts in the past have been made to ban the march. When the Nazis invaded and occupied the Grand Duchy, they banned the procession, and when some Luxembourgers led a hopping procession in secrecy, those poor hoppers were discovered and imprisoned. The festival ceased to be until the Nazis were driven from Luxembourg and World War II ended.

Who can blame the imprisoned Luxembourgers for wanting to continue to hop? Citizens of the Grand Duchy don’t take too kindly to outsiders trouncing on their traditions. After all, the country’s motto is “Mir welle bleiwe wat mir sin,” or “We want to remain what we are.” And they weren’t going to let a bunch of goosesteppers annihilate the delight and fun of Luxembourg’s hoppers.

Now I must go practice my hopping.



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