Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Christmas in German Russia country

Culture | December 17th, 2020

By Michael M. Miller

michael.miller@ndsu.edu

The late Mary Lynn Axtman, native of Rugby, ND, who dedicated many hours for GRHC, shared this message about ornaments from Joseph S. Height’s section on Christmas in his book, “Paradise on the Steppe.” “About Christmas trees – the reason is simply that no evergreen trees of any kind could be found on the grassy steppes of South Russia. [And probably the same on the grassy prairies of the USA and Canada.] However, on Christmas Eve of 1828, Count Voronzov, the governor of Odessa, did have a Christmas tree in his residence. It was described as a six foot sapling that was planted in a box of earth and adorned with a variety of artificial flowers and gift packages. The salon in which it stood was illuminated by a large number of lighted wax tapers that were placed on the tables.

On St. Barbar’s Day (December 8) it was the custom to bring branches of fruit trees or sprigs of willow into the house, where they were placed in water, so that they might produce green shoots and blossoms before Christmas Day. This was regarded as a good omen of prosperity in the coming year. Some people planted various kinds of grain in boxes, hoping they might have some greenery in the house during the festive season.”

Cindy Mitzel Longtin, Fargo, was a member of the 1996 and 1997 Journey to the Homeland Tours, visiting her ancestral village of Selz, near Odessa, Ukraine. Her mother, Mary (Welk) Mitzel, born in 1913, grew up on a farm near Orrin, ND. Cindy writes, “We didn’t put up a Christmas tree, mother had a large oleander plant tree in the living room that was decorated with snap-on candles, strings of cranberries and popcorn. We would light three candles at a time for daily evening prayers and then Christkindl came.

I remember the excitement in the air and we kids running to the windows when we heard the bells from the horse harness and bobsled on Christmas Eve. Belzneikel was bringing Christkindl along with six others singing Christmas carols into the house. Belzneikel (St. Nicholas) usually wore a fur cap and a long fur coat, rarely speaking to hide the person’s identity. Christkindl wore a beautiful dress with a white veil attached to a hat or crown over her head with many flowing broad multiple colors of ribbons. Our parents would offer homemade chokecherry wine, cold meats, breads, and kuchen to Belzneikel, Christkindl, and the singers before they were on their way to the next home.”

Jerry Richter, Jamestown, ND, writes, “The central tradition at our house was going to Christmas Eve’s Midnight Mass. Even with no lights nor tree ornaments, everything was so beautiful, plus the music sung by the St. James Academy. I would in later years try out for the choir, only to have Sister Camilius take me aside and say to me, ‘Jerome, God is gracious to all his children and give each one special gifts and talents. But I am sorry to say that the gift of singing is not one of his many gifts, which he has given to you.’

My sisters and I would wear out pages of the Sears wish book, hoping Santa would bring us our heart desires. We usually got one item of our many desires. The proverbial shirt, blouse, and hankie... and always a book from Dad. And always there was fresh fruit, oranges, apples, and bananas. Also for us children was a big bag of mixed nuts. Even today, some fifty-plus years later, I still try to open a Brazil nut without demolishing the nut meat.”

Jerry Richter shares, “Christmas day was the culmination of suspense completing our morning chores and making sure all animals had extra feed and bedding. It was time to cleanup, to finish breakfast, and to see what Santa had brought us.”

Gerald Wagner, St. Paul, MN, writes, “Our Christmas was very simple with our parents, brothers, and sisters as we did not travel or have visitors because at Christmas we were usually snowbound. We were nearly two miles of hilly section line trail to the nearest graded road so horses and bobsled were needed. We were seven miles south of Fredonia, ND, in 1937, as the crow flies. We had canned vegetables, sour kraut, canned meats both pork and chicken, smoked hams, bacon, and homemade sausage my father made. We also had plenty of potatoes and home baked bread. Everything was home grown. We always had plenty to eat. We had no radio, telephone or newspaper. We played many board games and cards for entertainment.”

Gilbert Schauer, Longview, WA, shares, “I went to the Glueckstal Church, near Napoleon and Tappen, ND. What I remember most is it always seemed the roads were blocked. So my older brothers and my Dad had to hook up a team of horses on what was the bobsled. It was about five miles to church. We always had bells on the reins of the horses. As we would be nearing the church, there would be several other families, Mertzes, Langs, Reuers, just to name a few. There was hay in the sled, we were covered up with what was called a lap robe that was made out of one of Dad’s horse hides. It was 30 and 40 below zero. I have told this story to my two girls, Tauni and Terri. Their response was, ‘Dad that was living.’”

Mary Ebach, Rugby, ND, comments, “We would eat a meatless meal, usually fried fish, since we could not eat meat on Christmas Eve, open our presents, and get ready to go to Midnight Mass. After Mass, we went home and stuffed ourselves with a ham our mother had made, wrapped in dough to keep it moist and then baked, her vinegar and oil potato salad, golodetz, head cheese and kucha. I missed the most important part before we ate, our mother passed around some home made brewed Schnapps. Those fantastic memories are as vivid and happy as if it were yesterday and we are so grateful we came from a family that built those memories.”

Additional Christmas memories from our Germans from Russia community are at Customs, Traditions, Memories – https://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/research-history/germans-russia/customs-traditions-memories.

[Editor’s note: Michael Miller is director and bibliographer for NDSU libraries and the Germans from Russia heritage collection (GRHC). For more information about the 24th Journey to the Homeland Tour to Germany and Ukraine (May 2022), donating a family history and/or photographs, or how to financially support the GRHC, contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, Dept. 2080, PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050, (Tel: 701-231-8416); or go to library.ndsu.edu/grhc.]

Recently in:

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comThat old adage no longer applies: There is now such a thing as a free lunch, and it is here to stay. With help from a willing community, the founders of Lunch Aid North Dakota are continuing their…

By Michael M. Miller michael.miller@ndsu.eduLarry Kruckenberg of Cheyenne, WY, a native of Hazen, ND, has authored a new book, “Big Bend Country: A Journey of Good Times, Hard Times, and Hope,” available from GRHC.Kruckenberg…

Sons of Norway, Kringen Lodge #4-25, is a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Norwegian culture.Sentrum på 722 2nd Ave N, FargoKringen Kafe er åpen for Kaffe og Bakverk mandag-fredag 9.00 til…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comIs Texas Senate Bill 8 only the beginning?If it wasn’t so insulting to primates, it looks as if some of the most vocal anti-abortion lawmakers in North Dakota wish to adapt a monkey see monkey do…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.comDo American Nazis ‘Critically Know’ What Hitler Brought to the World?Since the 1930s and the rise of Adolf Hitler, some Americans have been enthralled by his racial ideology and his theory of…

To say that this year’s Bartenders Battle was the best display of talent in the six years since its creation would be an understatement and a disservice to not only the bartenders who made it into the competition, but also the…

Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.com15 July 2021With Grand Forks being a hop skip and a cruise away from Fargo-Moorhead, our neighbors to the north have some great dining options. Whether you’re planning on spending a weekend or…

Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.com15 July 2021“We have a guy that's been involved with the show for many years as a landlord and knew what it was like in the heydays. So he knows where he wants to take it.” says WE Fest General…

By Greg Carlsongregcarlson1@gmail.comEqually frustrating and fascinating, Soleil Moon Frye’s quasi-confessional nostalgia documentary “Kid 90” (2021) will attract pop culture consumers of a certain age lured by the promise of…

By  Sabrina Hornung sabrina@hpr1.com2021 marks the 18th annual FMVA Studio Crawl, the Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists’ largest event. This year 38…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comDrag shows, for me, feel like a celebration of artistry, esthetic, music, and camaraderie. With a dash of confetti thrown in.The local drag community is a close-knit family. Giving back to affiliated…

by Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comAdam Quesnell's last show at The Cellar beneath the Front Street Taproom in Fargo was in early September of 2018. He was embarking on a seminal move from Minneapolis to LA. As always, his comedy was…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comSpring is here (mostly), and our area is buzzing with people eager to get back out and about -- many newly vaccinated and feeling a bit safer. Partnering with Jade Events, Fargo Brewing is just…

by Laurie J Bakeremsdatter@gmail.com Part of modern yoga is participating in the world around us. We live in a time of upheaval in society and nature, and of great suffering in humans of all ages. Most of us perceive this suffering…

By Theresa L. Goodrichsubmit@hpr1.comIt was day ten of our epic southwest road trip and we’d made it to Arizona. After camping in Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and New Mexico, we were exhausted, but fortunately our night in…

by Annie Prafckesubmit@hpr1.com17 June 2021On June 19th, from 12pm to 7pm, nonprofit Faith4Hope Scholarship Fund is hosting their first ever Juneteenth Freedom Celebration at Lindenwood Park in Fargo. It is free and open to the…