Christmas Customs in the Black Sea
Weihnachtliches aus dem Schwarzmeergebiet
Bosch, Anton. "Christmas Customs in the Black Sea Area." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2000, 17.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog,
In the Black Sea area, too, Christmas was the greatest feast, for
children along with their parents and grandparents intensively prepared
throughout Advent, and which they awaited with great anticipation
projects of repairing and applying new layers of lacquer on old
The old traditions had been brought along by our ancestors, from
the Pfalz [Palatinate], from Baden, Alsace, and Wuerttemberg, to
the Black Sea area. They held on to them even up to the expulsions
and deportations four, five generations later, and they practiced
them, with slight variations, in every settlement area, be it the
Beresan or the Kutchurgan regions.
And today, the figures of the Christ Child and the Pelzenickel,
to name only two of our favorite Christmas-time figures, still make
their appearance at the season's celebrations of our organization.
Moreover, the descendants of our colonists, beyond two or three
further generations, continued to nurture these traditions even
in Siberia, and subsequently they brought them back to Germany --
a fact not too well known by our people.
In the new editions of the double-volume book Die deutschen Kolonien
in Suedrussland ["The German Colonies in South-Russia"]
by Konrad Keller -- the original editions had been published in
1905 and 1914, resp. -- we came upon a description of Black Sea
area Christmas celebrations that has, in our opinion, genuine historical
The new editions are in the process of being printed and will be
issued at year's end by the "Historischen Forschungsverein
der Deutschen aus
Russland" [Historical Research Society of Germans from Russia].
Prepublication orders may be placed with Michael Wanner, Frankenstr.
93128 Regenstauf [,Germany]; Telephone: 09042-3916 [if calling from
replace the inital zero with 011-49, Tr.]. This constitutes our
first-ever book production project, a Christmas present that is
coming to the
market following five months of intensive effort by a team of eight
Under the chapter title "Volkstuemliches und Volkskundliches
Beresan" ["Traditional and Folkloric Customs in the Beresan"]
book we find the following concerning the feast of Christmas:
Weihnachten (Christkindl, Pelzenickel, Stefestag, Buendelstag)
[Christmas (the Christ Child, Pelzenickel, St. Stephen's Day, Buendelstag]
[Translator's note: the term Christkindl denotes the Christ Child,
who in traditional German Christmas customs appeared to the children
and would in later times be replaced by the Weihnachtsmann or, in
Russian usage, Father Christmas, or the equivalent of Santa Claus.
The term Pelzenickel is fairly impossible to translate, so I am
leaving it untranslated; it denotes the figure of the "Bad
Guy" who often accompanied the Christ Child figure and acted
as the punishing agent for bad kids, because the Christ Child would
hardly personally punish children; Stefestag is a dialect word for
(St.) Stephen's Day; and the last term above, Buendelstag, also
left untranslated, is described in the text that follows. "ue"
= "u with an umlaut." Tr.-AH]
Christmas, that joyous feast for children, when all Christiandom
adores the lovable Divine Child in the crib, brings joy and bliss
as well as nice presents to all good children.
The Christmas tree was not part of early customs in the Beresan
Instead, the Christ Child presented the children with all the pretty
that today are hung on the tree. The Christ Child figure was usually
represented by a girl with a fine, clear voice and natural wit.
dressed in white, with a veil covering her face, carrying a basket
on one arm
and a bundle of switches in the other hand.
Attired in this fashion, along with several other girls and sometimes
also accompanied by Pelzenickel, she would come up to a window of
where the lamps had already been lit. A girl would ring a bell in
the window, and the Christ Child figure asked, "Darf's Christkindl
kumme?" [Dialect for, "Is the Christ Child permitted to
come in?"] The
housewife answered, "Yes," and the Christ Child and company
stepped into the
room, where the children, with fear and trepidation, usually were
the events to come.
Now the examination begins: have the children been praying willingly
and for how long; have they been obedient, etc.? Depending on the
answers, there are presents or floggings. Sometimes when the Christ
Child asks in a really serious tone or expresses doubts about the
children's praying or their knowledge of all the important prayers,
all the assembled children fall on their knees, crying, and reciting
the prayers in question.
If, however, there are bad, disobedient boys present, the Pelzenickel
figure, who has been waiting outside, is called in. Usually a strapping
young man with a low voice, he is dressed in a ragged, inside-out
[hence the first part of his name, Tr.], with a mask over his face,
with horns on his head, a clanging chain slung over his shoulder,
bundle of switches in his right hand. This figure, not any more
than the Evil One himself, with chain rattling, steps over the threshold,
inside one can hear fearsome screaming and wailing from the bad
attempting to hide somewhere. But they're all found out and must
themselves to the Pelzenickel, who says little and, instead, allows
switches to whistle their message -- a sound that will continue
to echo a
long time in the ears of the bad boys.
Finally, after the Christ Child and the Pelzenickel have left the
house, the children are presented with their gifts, which usually
edible things such as Lebkuchen [ginger cookies, or ginger bread],
apples, and nuts.
In earlier days, the second day of Christmas, or the feast of St.
Stephen (Stefestag), was the day when servants would leave their
and begin serving a new one. Male and maid servants would pack their
[hence the first part of the name for that day, Buendelstag, Tr.],
on a wagon or on a sled, and with horses decorated with colorful
parade up and down the village street, singing:
"Today is my Buendelstag,
Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this
The day of my goal,
Should the farmer send me away,
Don't give me much."