Theresa Kuntz Bachmeier (TB)
Conducted by Mary Ebach (ME)
2 December 1999, Rugby, North Dakota
ME: Now we are getting into Christmas. How was
Christmas celebrated in your home, when you were home with your
TB: There was a Christkindl, there was
no Santa Clauses. Anyway, she [Christkindl] came in the
house with a rod, a branch.
ME: The Christkindl?
TB: The Christkindl, and with the rod
you received a few slaps on the back.
TB: Well, if you was mean –
ME: If you were bad -
TB: If you were bad.
ME: The Christkindl, wasn't that a good
one that brought you candy or presents?
TB: Yah, but you know the Christkindl
had to say, "Where are the bad girls and boys that didn't listen
to their father and mother?" That's what the words were.
ME: When did you get your present and candy?
TB: Well, then they put it on the floor and when
you went to get it, they were going to hit their fingers, but you
got it. (laughter)
ME: What do you know about the Belzenickel?
TB: Not much of that, there was no Belzenickel.
ME: What do you remember about Easter? How did
you get ready for Easter?
TB: As far as I know, we had a little path going
across from the house where we went to school. That's where the
Easter rabbit laid our eggs.
ME: Were they colored eggs?
TB: Yes, they were colored eggs.
ME: Did you have candy then too?
TB: Yes, colored candy, those long ones -
ME: What about Holy Week, did you go to Stations
of the Cross?
TB: Oh, yah. We went to Stations of the Cross.
ME: When you were still home, did you go to church
on Good Friday and Holy Thursday?
TB: Yes, we did. If there was snow we had little
overshoes on; when the snow got deeper, we stepped into the snow
with the overshoes.
ME: And then you went to church on Good Friday
in the afternoon.
TB: I don't remember anymore, but I think it was
in the morning.
ME: What about Easter Sunday? Did you get all
dressed up in new clothes?
TB: Oh yes, what do you think -
ME: You wore hats and nice dresses.
TB: What we had nice, everything good - the best
we had. And when we got home, we had to take them off and put other
Interview with Helen
by Bob Dambach (BD) with Michael M. Miller (MM)
7 October 2001, Hague, North Dakota
HK: So I suppose you want to know from Russia
how we went? When we grew up, we'd go out to dances with the young
people. It was like that, too, we always were in groups. When one
[group] got together then the other ones [joined them] but we got
Sunday was Sunday. But when Communists was, there was no Sunday
and there was no Christmas and there was no Easter. There was only
Oktoberfest and first of May, that would be the Labor Day. They
marched and stuff like that. But otherwise- There was abortion [at]
that time already in Russia. It's so hard when you have no contact
from the outside world. We didn't know what's going on in Germany
or over in Russia or across the street. You even couldn't talk to
your neighbor because the walls had ears. When you had a holy picture
in the house and one of those cams - comes, you better take that
down. That was terrible. You always think, "We have it hard."
Every country or every community has something - not everything
is perfect. But that was worse.
BD: Did you know what was happening? You said
they were coming and taking people away from villages. Did you know
what happened to those people?
HK: No, all to Siberia. They took them all to
Siberia. They had to build roads, and they had to build different
stuff, you know. They starved. They'd only last a year or two. You
could not even ask [about them].
BD: So there's no letters coming –
HK: No, no. There was no nothing. There was no
doctor. There was maybe a hospital 20 miles away but they didn't
have the medication. All the babies were born at home. We had these
old midwives who took care of them. The lifespan was maybe 55-60.
That's about it. A lot of people died. Like with the food,
too- we'd eat good and everything when we had [it]. We drank our
own wine. We made no coffee or anything because we didn't have the
money to buy [any]. We had the grapes so we made our own wine and
our vegetables. [We] picked all the stuff, you know.
BD: How about Christmas or Easter traditions?
HK: Oh, that was great! Easter, and Christmas
too, but we had no Christmas tree. We went out and cut a dry branch
off and took it in the house, colored some onions and little colored
paper and popcorn rolls and hung it. And that was our Christmas
tree. Then the Christkindl came, and we all had to sit
in a row. "Was she good, was he bad?" "Yah, der
ist bees (böse, bad) und der ist gut." She had a
little thing, and she hit us a little a bit. And Ma was standing
behind the Christkindl, and she'd hold a doll or whatever
she had to give us, you know, and that was the Christkindl.
Then we had ham, potato salad and wine and baked our own cookies.
Strudels and rolls; we did it all our own.
BD: How about Easter traditions?
HK: Easter, too, the whole week was Holy Week.
I remember Good Friday when they put Christ in the tomb and the
Mesner (sacristan, sexton) had to stay posted there for a couple
of hours. Every three-four hours then they changed it again. [Sie]
haben gewacht am Heiland, sein Grab. (They guarded the Savior's
tomb.) That was real nice too. Then we colored some eggs. We dug
little houses beside the house and put a little green grass in and
then the Oschterhas (Osterhase), what they call
the Easter bunny, came. Ma was out early [with the eggs] and she
always put them in there so that was nice.
BD: What would you have done for fun? What sort
of games did you play?
HK: Oh, we danced, we singed and we played tricks
to each other. In fall, like here we have Thanksgiving, we had Fasenacht
(Mardi Gras). We had a big dance and put different clothes on. Like
when a couple got married, we stuffed [clothes of] a man and wife
laying in the bed. It's all kids' stuff but was it fun. It was fun.
Each group had her leader and he could play the organ or the violin.
Singing is the most important [thing] what we had down there. Our
choir in our church had 60 singers. And our Schulmeister
(schoolmaster) was Ferdinand Kraft. Michael, you know the Kraft
from Strasburg that had a store? That was his uncle. We had a choir
and everything Latin we had to sing, everything in Latin.
But then, just like in Christmas you sing, "Stille Nacht"
or "Komm Christkindlein," that was in German. But the
other ones were all in Latin.
with Celestina Metz (CM)
by Brother Placid Gross (BG)
20 January 1998, Dickinson, North Dakota
BG: Ah, about Weihnachten; how did you
celebrate Christmas when you were little?
CM: Oh, we had the Belzenickel and Christkind.
BG: The Belzenickel come and scared you?
CM: Yah, right! Oh, we usually got some peanuts
and candy, not very many but a few. Didn't get much of gifts, but
we always had some Christmas Eve doing.
BG: You probably didn't get any gifts at all maybe?
CM: No, not very much. If we got a little rubber
ball or a pencil, that was about it! But Belzenickel and
Christkind, they always came every year.
BG: What did the Belzenickel look like?
CM: Oh, he was on all fours and he had a big fur
coat over him, or whatever it was.
BG: Did he drag along a chain?
CM: He drug a long chain along. And then if you
weren't good, he’d grab you. We always - we had a bench behind
the table and we’d sit up there with our feet up on top of
Guest: What was the purpose of that?
CM: Well, he was going to take us along if we
weren't good. We had to pray for him.
BG: You had to scare the kids to be good.
BG: Scare them into being good!
CM: Do you remember, yet, when we had school out
there? We had one of the - I think one of the Soldoski girls taught?
Do you remember that? Vernon would tell you. And there was - they
called him the devil that time. And he came and he wanted to grab
Vernon, because Vernon wasn't scared. And he came and he grabbed
Vernon. "Ma, Ma, Ma!" he hollared. He didn't holler for
Dad's help, Ma's!
BG: How was the Christkindl dressed?
CM: Ah, always had a white dress on and lots of
lace. Her face covered with a veil, you couldn't tell who it was.
And she always had a little whip. She tried to hold you out some
candy and whip you on the hand! We didn't like her!
BG: Didn’t like the Christkindl?
BG: I can’t blame you if you didn’t
like the Belzenickel, but the Christkindl?
CM: Yah, but she was - she was mean. She’d
hit you with that little wreath that she had. Well, she was supposed
to be an angel, I guess.
BG: Did you have baskets? Did you get a basket
CM: A little paper bag with a few candy in. She’d
hold them up and if you’d reach for it, she’d hit you
with that stick. So would you like her?!
BG: So you didn't have big baskets.
CM: No, no.
BG: Was there a donkey along too?
CM: Yah. One year I remember there was a donkey
along with a long, peaked nose and he dug into everybody's bag!
And, of course, we kids were scared he’s going to take some
out of there!
BG: The donkey was separate from the Christkindl.
CM: Yah, yah.
BG: He walked beside the Christkindl.
Ah, did you get an orange?
CM: Once-in-a-while. Not every year, but once-in-a-while
BG: An apple, sometimes, too?
CM: About the only time we got an orange was for
BG: Well, it was special when they got an orange.
CM: Yah, right.
BG: It was a big deal. So, in the '30s, well,
you were grown up already in the '30s, so you weren't too poor.
I mean, sometimes in the '30s, they didn't get any Christmas at
CM: Oh, yah. We had Christmas every year. Well,
I had a brother that was seven years younger than I was, so, still
had Santa Claus come.
BG: How did you celebrate Easter? Did you have
CM: Oh, yah. We always had a lot of Easter eggs.
BG: Did the Easter rabbit come? Did you think
the Easter rabbit brought the eggs or -?
CM: As long as we were little, yah, we thought
it was the Easter rabbit! Of course, after we got bigger, we had
to help dye the eggs, then we knew better.
Interview with Sister
Joan Nuss (SJ)
by Jocelyn Renner Tang (JT)
1 February 1998, Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, North Dakota
JT: Sister Joan, I'm going to ask you about some
Christmas customs. Can you tell me what Belzenickel is?
SJ: Yes, and Christkindl, too, we had
JT: Belzenickel was a man?
SJ: He was dressed in a - like a fur coat and
long hair, you know, and tied down around with a strap down. And
they came to your house and if they say you weren’t good,
you got licked, you know.
JT: You got [licked] with what?
SJ: They got licked. He had a strap, a Riemen,
you know, it hung down on his side. And he would lick them. Oh,
in the old country they had one, which my mother told us about the
Belzenickel when we first learned. It’s in my mind
all the time, when I hear that word, I think of that story.
JT: What is it?
SJ: Well, there was a couple there and they had
a boy and a girl, 14 and 15. They didn't obey their parents too
much, you know. They were always running ahead of them, and so one
time the Belzenickel came there and he asked, “How
are your children?” They said, “Well, they don't obey
us anymore. We don't know what to do with them, we cannot handle
The dad said, “Take them out; take them away. We are fed
up with them.” So the Belzenickel took this boy and
girl out and never brought them back. Then the parents, after midnight,
went out searching. Nobody could find them – no clues. He
had murdered both of them over by the barn, cut their heads off..
Since that time I don't like the Belzenickel.
And the Christ Child was good. She was dressed in white. She had
a veil on and a wreath, and she would bring us – we’d
get a little package from her for Christmas, you know.
JT: So the Christ Child was a girl, a female figure?
SJ: A female, um hum, but this [Belzenickel]
was a male.
JT: And that story your mother told you was a
story she got from Russia?
SJ: Russia – that’s a true story.
That’s a true story.
JT: And the Christkindl was a female
figure and -
SJ: Dressed in white, in a veil and she had a
JT: So when Christmas came and these people came
to your door, were you afraid?
SJ: Not when the Christ Child came, but we never
had him [the real Belzenickel]. But we had a neighbor man
who dressed up as a Belzenickel. He came to our house on
the farm. It was during the [Great] Depression too. He had called,
I guess my parents or my brother, whoever it was, if he could come
over on that night to see us, you know. The man who dressed up -
when we heard about it, we didn't like him, so we all ran and hid.
Some went in the clothes closet, way up on top. Some went down to
the root cellar, and some went in those beds that we had folding,
you know, folding beds. They opened the beds, two lay in there,
and they rolled them, you know. We all hid; he didn’t find
a one. Were we glad!
JT: You were so frightened of him.
SJ: I think that’s why we hid too.
JT: Do you remember any special Easter activities?
SJ: Yes, at Easter time we always got new hats
and shoes. We didn't have nothing else. We took our shoebox and
made the little Easter basket and nest right by our bed. And we
had some sticks and candy in there. We didn't have much, but there
was always something, you know.
JT: Do you remember anything called Eierlesen,
egg roll[ing], Eierlaufen?
SJ: No, hm um.
JT: No? Okay. Were there special religious activities
at Christmas or Easter? Like you went to church, you said.
SJ: Yes, we did.
JT: And the Mass was in German?
SJ: I think it was Latin, wasn't it? I don't think
they had it in German. Latin.
JT: Oh, it was in Latin.
SJ: It was Latin, I think.
Kathryn Ehli Ternes (KT)
by Michael M. Miller (MM)
18 August 1993, Bismarck, North Dakota
MM: Very interesting. What about the holidays,
you know, of course during those hard years you didn't have too
much for holidays, but how did they celebrate, for instance, Christmas?
How do you remember Christmas as a child?
KT: I remember the first Christmas that I really
can remember is when my dad had died. We didn't have any –
anything, you know, no money to buy anything. My mother was poor
at that time. They had just bought a house and were making monthly
payments and that time the railroad men didn't make what they do
now. So that Christmas we were invited to some friends of my dad
that also worked on the railroad. They had no children; they invited
us and we got a lot of Christmas gifts when we were there. We were
just shocked. I still have a iron that I got from those people.
Then when we came home there was a big box in front of our house
that I guess the Salvation Army or some organization brought for
us for gifts as we were left alone just in October.
MM: This was in 1917.
KT: That was in 1918. Then when we moved to the
farm, Christmas didn't mean too much out there. All we got for Christmas
was probably a hanky and a bowl of peanuts, nuts and a orange or
apple. It was not a big deal out there for Christmas.
MM: What about Easter?
KT: Easter, like I say, there was Easter eggs
made and that Easter bread. Then you'd go to church on Thursday,
MM: What about the 4th of July? Did they celebrate
4th of July?
KT: We went to Mandan for the 4th of July when
we grew up; went to the rodeos, fireworks in the evening.
MM: What about when you got married west of Strasburg
there, did they have a 4th of July?
KT: Yah, we went to the 4th of July in town.
MM: Was there any kind of music in Strasburg?
KT: Yes, they had a bandstand in the middle of
town and there was a band playing at night. And during the day they
would just [be] moseying around. Yah, I remember my first 4th of
July was we went to town.
MM: And what was the name of the band or who was
in the band do you remember?
KT: Oh, the Kleins played. I remember them being
in the band and - See at that time they were all kind of strange
to me yet.
MM: Because you were out on the farm.
KT: Yah, we were out on the farm, but I remember
the Kleins because the Kleins and us got friends when we lived on
the farm yet.
MM: What was their full name?
KT: Eugene Klein and Margaret.
MM: And Leo Klein, do you remember him?
KT: Oh, yes! Yah, I remember Leo. Yah, he went
to school at that time. I remember when Phil graduated that year,
I guess when we got married; Phil and I are about the same age.
Then they put on a play one time around Christmastime and we went
into that play. We must have been married about a year and a half
because I had Art already by that time.
Interview with Paul
P. Welder (PW)
by Betty and Chris Maier (BM/CM)
9 August 2000, Linton, North Dakota
BM: And holidays? How did you celebrate Christmas?
PW: Christmas was really something we were looking
forward to. We were always scared of the Belzenickel and
the Christkindl, but it was something to look forward to
because there was oranges maybe for Christmas and a lot of cookies
and peanuts and nuts and almonds and candy and Christmas was a big
thing to look forward to. But we always had a Belzenickel
and he was mean. He come sometimes even with chains and he was mean.
And the Christkindl was always kind with a sheet over her
and you didn’t see much of her face; she was a little better
but she was mean too.
BM: Did you have that celebration with your children
BM: No, why did you stop?
PW: No, just one time; just one time Santa Claus
came and that was it. We didn’t allow it anymore. We had two
children, Bernadette and Raymond, and the Belzenickel came
and they were so scared that we were out in the barn milking the
next morning and they came out to the barn with their pajamas on.
So we took them in and we said no more. It was scary.
CM: What other holidays did you observe other
than church holidays?
PW: There was none excepting Easter and Christmas
and then Pentecost, you know, Pfingste- Pentecost and Christi
Himmelfahrt-Ascension. That was about it. Well, no. Those
Three Kings from the Orient-Dreikönige. Yah, that
was a big day too.
CM: And how about Fasenocht? (Fastnacht-Tuesday
PW: That was too sometimes. There was some headaches
the next day because they drank that home brew, you know and there
were some headaches. There was some hangovers and a hangover is
a head that wasn’t used the night before.
BM: So, Names Days?
PW: Names Days, yes.
BM: Did you celebrate those?
PW: Even after we were married Names Days were
still pretty popular.
Interview with Fern
Renner Welk (FW)
by Michael M. Miller (MM)
21 May 1994, Branson, Missouri
MM: I forgot to ask you, Fern, back in St. Anthony,
what was Christmas like?
FW: There was no such thing as buying gifts for
each one. What they did, they bought lots of goodies, nuts, candy,
cookies, and they baked cookies too, cakes, and bought oranges and
apples and all that stuff. Then on Christmas Day they would take
a plate and pile it this high with all these goodies. But there
was no such thing as gifts. This was your gift, these goodies, and
we looked forward to it.
MM: Was there a Midnight Mass?
FW: I don't think – maybe there was. We
would go by sled and go into day Mass.
MM: Did the Santa Claus come out to your house?
FW: No Santa Claus.
MM: No angels either?
MM: Not in St. Anthony either?
FW: I think they were so busy on the ranch, they
didn't have time for all that and later on when they retired they
didn't do it either.
MM: What about Easter, anything special at Easter
FW: There was talk about the Easter bunny and
Easter eggs. They dyed a bunch of eggs, you know. You had Easter
eggs. And we looked forward to it. I think we were just as thrilled
about the little stuff. Kids get too much stuff nowadays. I wonder
if they appreciate it all.