Frohliche Weihnachten und ein Gluckliches Neues Jahr!

Ebach, Mary. "Frohliche Weihnachten und ein Gluckliches Neues Jahr!" Pierce County Tribune, 25 December 1999, 8.

The above words that greeted you during the holiday season in a German community. Translated, it means "Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year." If you were visiting in someone's home, this greeting was quickly followed by the refreshing Everclear home mix! This is just one of the traditional customs of the season.

Actually, Christmas was a very religious time and the season really began with Advent. That is the preparation for the coming of the Christ Child or Christkindel. In the early years of our family, there was no Christmas tree or presents. On Christmas Eve a visitor by the name of Christkindel came to visit. This was generally a lady wearing a white dress and a halo on her head. She asked the children if they had been good or bad. If they were good (and they generally were) they received a bag of candy, nuts and an apple or orange. If they were bad, they got a rap across the wrist. Then there was another visitor called the Belzenickel, and this was a man dressed in a fur or large winter coat, with a cap covering his eyes. The kids were asked the same question, were you a good or bad boy or girl. But he didn't hurt anyone, either. This was a forerunner of the present day Santa Claus.

In the later years, our family did put up a tree. It was decorated so nice and before the time that electricity came to our farm, the tree was lighted with wax candles attached to the limbs. The trees remained until the feast of Three Kings, which was Jan. 6. Our godparents usually stopped by and gave us a doll or candy bag or dress or some such gift. Our parents, too, put out some presents that had been left by the Christkindel. We never did see him, but he sure left some nice gifts.

The food preparation included the baking of ammonia cookies (Harschman salz cookies). Our mother went into Baillie's and Fred Baillie sold her some baking ammonia. He would say to her, "Oh, it's time to bake cookies again." To this day her grandchildren call them Grandma's cookies. Fortunately, Clara (Ebach) has the recipe and continues this tradition. When the nieces and nephews come to visit they want some of Grandma's cookies, and it isn't sufficient to offer one; they take a handful. On Christmas Eve it used to be a meatless day, so the evening meal was usually fish, potato salad and jello. Everyone sat around and visited or sang Christmas songs. Our mother loved to sing. Everyone then got dressed up in nice clothes and they drove to Rugby for Midnight Mass. You had to arrive around 11:30 in order to find a place to sit. There were 12 Ebachs, eight girls and four boys, so we took up a lot of room. The men sat on the right side of the church and the women on the left side. Sometimes it was very cold and several inches of snow and the ground just creaked when you walked or drove on it. The sky was clear, the moon was bright and there were a million stars in the sky.

The church was always so beautifully decorated. There was a very large Christmas decorated and lighted tree on the right side of the altar, and on the altar itself there were many smaller trees. In front of the altar was crib a scene with large size figures and a lighted crib with the Baby Jesus in it. It was a must that the parents took the children for a visit to the crib after Mass. The choir really sang out the traditional Christmas songs and the lights were dimmed before church. Then when Mass started the lights went on, the bells chimed, the incense was going, the priest was in his gold vestments and it was just breathtakingly beautiful. It was hard to stay awake for the entire ceremony, however. After Mass, people congregated outside and greeted each other and briefly visited, then on home for the post midnight meal. Then it was time for ham that had been baked in dough. This was done to preserve the juices of the meat. More potato salad and time for wishes for a Merry Christmas with the Everclear. Our mother served it to us and everyone had to have a sample, and everyone drank out of the same glass. We stood in line for our turn, and sometimes some of them would stand in line twice, but that didn't work.

Most everyone went to the country school. Many of them went to Spruce Hill School and some to Banner School. Of course, Christmas was observed there too. Every year there was a Christmas program with every child participating in some way. The proud parents all came to see their little "stars" perform. Following the program event, cookies and candy were distributed, then returning home for bigger and better things.

These are more than just memories, they are customs and values that are carried on to the next and the next generation. We must not lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas.

Reprinted with permission of the Pierce County Tribune.

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