In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The heritage of the Germans from Russia is an important part of
our northern plains culture.
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and to former Dakotans.
Readers' responses with suggestions and opinions are encouraged.
This column shares the holiday traditions of German-Russian customs
Belzenickel and Christkindl Traditions
The tradition of St. Nicholas (Belzenickel) bringing gifts for
children traces its origins back to the Middle Ages. According to
legend, St. Nicholas, the historic bishop with his flowing white
beard, was a generous, kind-hearted figure. Reformation customs
developed the Christkindl (Christ Child) as gift-giver appearing
in homes on Christmas Eve (Weihnachtsabend), traveling by sleigh
or carriage. The Belzenickel rewarded faithful children. How do
you remember the Belzenickel and the Christkindl visiting your home
on Christmas Eve?
Today we know St. Nicholas as Santa Claus, the American character,
who evolved from the Dutch "Sinter Klaus" of New York heritage.
Weihnachtsbaum (The Christmas Tree) in South Russia
According to Joseph S. Height's book, Memories of Black Sea
Germans, there is no historical evidence that early German settlers
in South Russia had Christmas trees in their homes due to the lack
of trees on the steppes of the Black Sea and Volga regions. On the
Dakota prairies, the German-Russian pioneers faced a similar situation
with no Christmas trees until they were shipped for sale into Dakota
Legend of The Christmas Spider
Kelly Mitchell of Calgary writes, "Many years ago in Germany,
a mother was cleaning her house for Christmas. All the spiders scurried
upstairs to the attic where they could hear the decorating being
done. The spiders then returned running up and down the branches,
covering the tree with their webs. When the Christ Child (Christkindl)
arrived seeing how ugly the tree was, he touched and blessed the
tree, turning all the webs into gold and silver sparkles. Thus the
custom of placing a spider ornament on the Chirstmas tree was born.
"A tree with a spider on it is blessed," according to oral tradition.
The Angels Christmas Tradition
Jolenta Fischer Masterson, a native of Strasburg, ND living in
Seattle shares, "On Christmas Eve, three 'angels' would enter our
home, cold with snow in their hair. Wearing wings and tinsel crowns,
one would be in pink, one in blue and one in white. After singing
Stille Nacht in German and Silent Night in English, the
angels would disappear into the night and bring back a special gift
for each child - from the Christkindl, we were told. Only after
that special visit would there be a gift exchange and feasting.
It was wonderful to be a child in those day!"
Halvah as a Confection with Christmas Memories
A Christmas tradition in many German-Russian homes is halvah.
This pressed confection of sesame seed and honey is eaten as a desert
or snack, somewhat crumbly and crunchy and quite sweet. With vanilla
and chocolate flavors but sometimes marbled, Halvah is a Turkish
confection. Curt Renz of Ames, IA, recalls his father selling halvah
by the pound in their Herreid, SD, store. Curt remembers selling
black olives, reaching with a cup into a huge wooden barrel filled
with brine and olives. These were daily purchases by the "old folks".
Other common purchases were head cheese and blood sausage.
Adeline Liebholz Kosch Celebrates Christmas at 105
One of the oldest German-Russians in America is Adeline Liebholz
Kosch, who recently celebrated her 105th birthday and is the oldest
person ever in Yakima, WA. She was born in 1891 in the former German
village of Hoffnungstal near Odessa, Ukraine. Persons wishing to
send a belated birthday card can address to Adeline Kosch, c/o Grace
Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1207 S. 7th St., Yakima, WA 98802.
Share Your Memories
Won't you share your childhood memories about the Christmas and
holiday customs, traditions, recipes, foods and other stories? We
are a research center and your contributions will provide broader
insight for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection and future
"In Touch with Prairie Living" columns. Share your memories by contacting
Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599.
Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu