Luxembourg, officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is the smallest country in Europe after the six microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. It is the world’s only remaining sovereign grand duchy, a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch headed by Grand Duke Henri.
Landlocked between France, Belgium and Germany, Luxembourg is heavily influenced by the cultures, people and languages of these neighbors. It has three official languages: French, German and the national language of Luxembourgish, a mish-mash of the first two that is not mutually intelligible. In spite of Luxembourg’s neutral status since 1867, it was repeatedly invaded by Germany, especially in World War II. This resulted in cultural transference and inspired the foundation of the European Union (EU). In fact, Luxembourg was one of six signatories of the EU’s precursor, the Treaty of Rome, in 1957. Robert Schuman, one of the EU’s founders, was born in Luxembourg.
Considering one can drive across the country in just a few hours, it has a sizeable population of 630,000 – nearly have of which are ex-pats – and one of the highest growth rates in Europe. Perhaps that’s because Luxembourg is a tax haven with one of the world’s highest GDPs per capita.
Its capital Luxembourg City is a financial hub and one of four official EU capitals (along with Brussels, Frankfurt and Strasbourg), including the EU Court of Justice and European Investment Bank. Old quarters and fortifications leftover from takeovers by neighboring countries over the centuries led to Luxembourg City being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Ten years later, my sister Melanie moved there, adding intangible cultural heritage (haha). As an American used to 24-hour service and convenience, it was an adjustment being in a sleepy city that shut down by 10 pm on weekdays and entirely on Sundays. She worked long hours and rarely cooked because grocery stores closed by the time she left the office. Plus, she was too tired to fuss in the kitchen. So, for her first six months in the country, she did not turn her oven on once.
It took my parents and me coming to visit her for Christmas to inspire her to do so. We bought glorious ingredients for cooking, such as pork loin and seasonal vegetables, decking her fridge with foods of jolly.
On Christmas eve, we dined out knowing we would be cooking much of the next day. Afterwards, per Dansby family tradition, we went to a church for midnight, candlelight service.
We happened to sit behind a pew under which a large dog was sleeping. It was a “welcome to Europe” moment for Americans who had never seen a four-legged church-goer. (Dogs are welcome in many European establishments and are generally well-behaved.)
As usual, my dad “rested his eyes” (aka dozed off) during the sermon. He was in synchronicity with the dog for a good 20 minutes until the priest came to a close.
“May the lord be with you,” he said, followed by a long pause.
“BOOF!” the dog loudly barked in the space of silence. It seems he missed the white noise of human words. My snoozing dad jolted awake.
“Jeez, times are so tough you can’t even sleep in church anymore,” he joked.
After a good night’s sleep, he and the rest of us cheerfully opened gifts on Christmas morning and got rolling on our menu. We prepped all of the dishes and began to gussy up ourselves per family tradition for Christmas dinner. Mel finally turned on her oven to preheat it for our glorious pork.
Zap! The lights went out. In fact, all electricity did. The oven shorted out, triggering a cascade of power loss.
“Well, my lord,” my dad said in the dark.
“Oh my God,” said Mel, entering “panic’s ville” and “going into orbit” per him and mom, respectively. “That’s what I get for not turning on my oven for six months!”
As dad lit candles, Mel quickly dialed her French landlord, who quickly replied “bof” (meaning “meh”), she couldn’t do anything given the holiday. Then her fingers walked through the local phone book (remember that?) to find an electrician – just short of a miracle in Europe on Christmas. She dialed electrician after electrician with no luck or answer until finally, a sympathetic Portuguese man offered to come over around 7 pm.
Meanwhile, Mel took the electricity outage upon her shoulders and burst into tears, declaring she had ruined Christmas. I reassured her that with wine and raw vegetables, we would survive.
The electrician finally arrived and tinkered in the basement for about 30 minutes. He got the lights and electricity back on but not the oven. That was a problem for another day. We all profusely thanked the man for “lighting up our lives” on the holiday, gave him a case of wine as a bonus and took a photo with him like St. Nick. He left and we did a group hug.
“See, Christmas is saved,” I teased Mel, who was finally smiling again.
We cracked open a bottle of wine and put the pork in the microwave. We toasted to being together – the eternal light so to speak – and got lit over light. From boof to bof, it was a Christmas to remember, “one for the books” (or at least for this blog).
Wishing you and yours a very merry and bright one!