Saturday, December 18, 2021

Pa. German Christmas and New Years traditions

This Tuesday, Landis Valley Museum staff will do a talk on the Pa. German customs for Christmas and New Years. Below is an 1853 account of Krishkinkle, stockings with sugar plums, and for those who are bad... a visit from Belsnickel. Also baking cookies for Christmas at Landis.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Dec 21 Tue 7 Exploring Christmas and New Year's traditions of Pennsylvania Germans. Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum. PA HERE

Notes and Queries, Number 217, December 24, 1853 --

Pennsylvanian Folk Lore: Christmas

This anniversary holds the same rank in the middle, southern, and western states as Thanksgiving Day in the eastern states or New England, where, owing to the Puritan origin of the bulk of the inhabitants, Christmas is not much celebrated.

In Pennsylvania many of the usages connected with it are of German origin, and derived from the early settlers of the Teutonic race, whose descendants are now a very numerous portion of the population. The Christmas Tree is thus devised: It is planted in a flower-pot filled with earth, and its branches are covered with presents, chiefly of confectionary, for the younger members of the family.

When bed-time arrives on Christmas Eve, the children hang up their stockings at the foot of their beds, to receive presents brought them by a fabulous personage called Krishkinkle, who is believed to descend the chimney with them for all the children who have been good during the previous year. The word Krishkinkle is a corruption of Christ-kindlein, literally Christ-infant, and is understood to be derived from the fact that a representation of the Infant Saviour in the manger formed part of the decorations prepared for the children at Christmas.

If the children have not been good during the year previous, instead of finding sugar-plums and other presents in their stockings on Christmas morning, they discover therein a birch-rod. This is said to have been placed there by Pelsnichol [or Belsnickel], or Nicholas with the fur, alluding to the dress of skins in which he is said to be clad. Some make Pelsnichol identical with Krishkinkle, but the more general opinion is that they are two personages, one the rewarder of the good, the other the punisher of the bad.

The functions ascribed to Krishkinkle in Pennsylvania are attributed to Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus in the State of New York, first settled by the Hollanders. The following poem, written by Clement C. Moore, LL.D., of New York (1823), describes the performances of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve, and is equally applicable to our Krishkinkle:
"A Visit from St. Nicholas.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Landis Valley Farm Museum has special memories - for over 10 years I joined in for the Cookie Bake and Black Pot-luck lunch. About a dozen volunteers cooks from the Harvest Days in Oct. would gather in the tavern to make the ton of cookies and some pretzels to decorate the tavern and hand out during the holiday. Led by Tom Martin, at Landis for 25 years until his death in 2016.
So much dough to be rolled out and put in the squirrel-tail oven; hearth cooks on both sides of the table, the guys putting trays in and out of the oven...
Preparing food - apple slices and pretzels
And Sue Latini at the upper oven, Harvest Days
Belsnickel blog post HERE Tom Martin HERE

Image: Belsnickel from Illustrirte Zeitung, Leipzig, 1880 in Pa Heritage, Winter 2018


©2021 Patricia Bixler Reber
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