The city that our family comes from is Pyritz, Pommern, Prussia.
Pomeranian folk costume from Pyritz
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According to legend, on Christmas Eve in Germany rivers turn to wine, animals speak to each other, tree blossoms bear fruit, mountains open up to reveal precious gems, and church bells can be heard ringing from the bottom of the sea. Of course, only the pure in heart can witness this Christmas magic. All others must content themselves with traditional German celebrating, of which there is plenty. As a matter of fact, there is so much celebrating that is has to begin on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day.
As in many other European countries, on the eve of Dec. 6th children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace. During the night, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all of the misdeeds of the children are written. If they have been good, he fills the shoe or boot with delicious holiday edibles. If they have not been good, their shoe is filled with twigs.
December 21st, supposedly the shortest day (longest night) of the year, is dubbed St. Thomas Day. In parts of the Sauerland, whoever wakes up late or arrives late to work on that day is issued the title "Thomas Donkey." They are given a cardboard donkey and are the subject of numerous jokes throughout the day. But this gentle abuse ends deliciously with round, iced currant buns called "Thomasplitzchen."
This is all preliminary to the excitement of Christmas Eve. Prior to the evening feast, is the presentation of the tree. The Christmas tree, as we know it, originated in Germany. It has a mysterious magic for the young because they are not allowed to see it until Christmas Eve. While the children are occupied with another room (usually by Father) Mother brings out the Christmas tree and decorates it with apples, candy, nuts, cookies, cars, trains, angels, tinsel, family treasures and candles or lights. The presents are placed under the tree. Somewhere, close to the bright display are laid brilliantly decorated plates for each family member, loaded with fruits, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits. When all is ready a bell is rung as a signal for the children to enter this Christmas fantasy room. Carols are sung, sometimes sparklers are lit, the Christmas story is read and gifts are opened.
"Dickbauch" means "fat stomach" and is a name given to the Christmas Eve because of the tradition that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So the opportunity is given to enjoy dishes such as suckling pig, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon), white sausage, macaroni salad, and many regional dishes.
Christmas Day brings with it a banquet of plump roast goose, "Christstollen" (long loaves of bread bursting with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), "Lebkuchen" (spice bars), marzipan, and "Dresden Stollen" ( a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit).
The custom of trimming and lighting a Christmas tree had its origin in pre-Christian Germany, the tree symbolizing the Garden of Eden. It was called the "Paradise Baum," or tree of Paradise. Gradually, the custom of decorating the tree with cookies, fruit and eventually candles evolved. Other countries soon adapted the custom. Charles Dickens called it "The Pretty German Toy."
Cook rice in milk with salt and butter, very slowly until kernels are tender but have not lost their shape. If you have patience, do this in the top of a double broiler. It will take 1 ½ to 2 hours but will be worth it. The mixture should be very thick and can be stirred several times during cooking. When done, flavor with sugar, cinnamon and add raisins--if you are using them. This may be served hot or cold.
Heat honey until thin; do not boil. Mix in all other ingredients except icing. Turn onto floured board and knead until smooth, adding a little flour if necessary. Roll with a floured rolling pin to ½" thickness. Grease and flour a baking sheet and lay rolled dough on it. Bake in pre-heated 350 degrees oven about 20 minutes. Spread with icing while hot; cool before cutting into rectangles.
Whip egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Add sugar and lemon and juice and continue beating until thick and glossy. Spread on cake or cookies with a spatula.
Erntedank, Pommern's harvest festival, was comparable to our Thanksgiving; Ernte (meaning harvest) and Dank (meaning thanks). However, the Pomeranian Erntedank was
held on the first Sunday after the 29th of September, at the end of the harvesting season.
The harvesting of crops was a strenuous task in historic times. The potato crops were harvested by the whole family, first they dug out the potato mounds and then picked through the soil to sort out the tubers. The children would gather the dried vines and burn them, using the fire to roast the smaller potatoes, which were considered a delicacy. When the last potato hill was harvested, they climbed onto the decorated wagon and headed for home.
The custom of Erntedank was centered in the church. A table was decorated with the best produce from the fields and gardens. Baskets of fruits and a harvest crown (Erntekrone) made from the grains and were carried into the church and onto the altar. In some churches this produce was distributed to the poor and in others it was sold with the proceeds going to the poor.
There were ceremonial rituals connected to the festival, such as, the making of the Alte - an old man made of straw, the decorating of their tools, the wearing of the (crown), and most everyone wore their trachten. Sometimes there were contests for the largest pumpkin grown, or the heaviest fodder of carrots or potatoes. There were festival dinners and everyone ate and drank a lot. Dances, games, and plays were held on the barn threshing floor. These celebrations varied somewhat from village to village.
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Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday) was deemed the beginning of Easter Week. Homes were decorated with birch tree branches, or pussy willows that had been forced to leaf out early by being brought into the warmth of the homes a few days earlier.
Gründonnerstag (Maunday Thursday) commemorates the Last Supper, the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the day before He died. Gründonnerstag literally means "green Thursday." Although the name probably comes from an ancient word "grein", which means to cry or weep, the color green is used that day as a symbol of renewal The meals that day usually include green foods, like spinach, leeks, beans, and chives.
Karfreitag (Good Friday) is observed by Christians because it was the day Christ died on the cross. Karfreitag literally means grief Friday and in most areas, the village was quiet and even the church bells were silent. All adornments on the altar and throughout the church were removed. But, in some areas of Germany the church services are announced by making a lot of noise with wooden rattles.
There was a tradition of lighting bon fires in the evening before Easter Sunday to chase away the evil spirits of winter. The young men would compete with each other to make the largest fire on a nearby hill. The charcoals from the fire were carried home as it was believed that these coals would give a warmer greeting to guests when burned on a cool evening.
Osterfeiertag - Easter - There is an old German saying that when a pig was butchered, every part of that pig was eaten or used in one form or another, that is, all except the squeal. So it was with many things, everything was used for something, even the outer skins of the onion. These skins of shades of red and brown were put aside throughout the winter months for the coloring of the Östereier (Easter egg). Leaves, grasses and small flowers were carefully arranged around each egg, leaving much of the shell exposed, then wrapped with a thin clothe and securely tied. The red onion skins were placed in a kettle, the brown ones in another, and then the eggs were carefully laid in the kettles and covered with cold water. The eggs were boiled for about 10 minutes and when taken from the water and the wrappings removed, they had beautiful designs from the grasses, leaves and flowers on a background of various shades of red, orange, and brown. They were now ready for the forthcoming Österhas (Easter Bunny) to hide in various places for the children to find.
Colored eggs were given as presents as early as the 6th century. The eggs were symbols of fertility and purity. Sometimes eggs were placed in the attics to insure good health and good fortune.
The young Frauleins had a special observance on Easter morning too. Very early, before sunrise, they would walk barefoot and quietly through the dewy grass to the nearest clear water creek. It was important for them to be very quiet and not talk to anyone and wash their faces in the cold water promptly as the sun began to rise. The boys and young men would hide behind shrubs or trees on the path to the creek and try to startle the girls and engage them in conversation.
The Frauleins believed that the "Easter Water" would magically bless them and make them beautiful. They also filled a bottle with this "Easter Water" from the stream so that they could dip their fingers in it each morning to maintain their newly acquired beauty.
Many Pomeranians saved the membrane from inside the eggs and covered their fingertips with it. This membrane was kept on their finger-tips throughout the day on Easter to protect them against sickness and evil throughout the entire year.
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Hocktied - The Pommern Wedding, - The marriage procedure began with the groom-to-be visiting the parents of the bride-to-be to formally ask for her hand in marriage; the wedding date was determined at that time. Then the forthcoming marriage was announced in church on the Sunday before the wedding, and at this time the couple would attend communion. The wedding party usually began on a Friday, but the celebration continued on through the following Sunday. Even as today, prior to the wedding, the invitations had to be sent out, and this service was performed by the Hochzeitsbitter; in some areas he was called the "Hochtiedsirer" and this service was usually performed by a brother of the bride. He wore the Pommerscher Trachten or a black suit with a tall black hat. This hat was decorated with colorful flowers and ribbons. He wore a small bouquet of flowers in the button hole of his suit, and carried a staff that was also decorated with colorful ribbons and flowers. He rode his horse from house to house, and was usually invited into the parlor of each home; where he treated the future wedding guests to some Schnapps, while reciting a memorized poem of invitation. He usually received a colorful handkerchief or a ribbon as an acceptance to the invitation. This handkerchief or ribbon was pinned to the back of his jacket. As he greeted the guests or helped in serving them at the wedding, the handkerchiefs were still pinned to his jacket,
During the 19th century, it was customary for the bride to wear black; it wasn't until the early 1900's that white became fashionable. The groom was not allowed to see the bride before he reached the church door. The guests arrived at the wedding ceremony by 10:00 A.M. and were welcomed with the music of a band of musicians. It was customary for the guests to tip the musicians, especially if the music pleased them. This custom was called "Zur Hochzeit einspielen."
The bridal dance began with the ceremony of the bride climbing onto a stone (usually upon a historic grave of an ancestor) to ask for a blessing from her ancestors. She would then recite, "Hier stehe ich ganz allein auf einem breiten Stein, und wer mich lief hat, holt mich ein" (Here I stand all alone on this stone, and whoever loves me, brings me down.) The bride groom would then have to climb up on the stone and the bridal dance would follow. Customarily, everyone attended a bounteous chicken dinner, so that "das Glück gackern" (happiness could cackle). The dinner was followed with a night of dancing that continued until around midnight. The bride was expected to dance with all the male guests and the groom with all the females. The musicians would continue to play until dawn, if tipped by the guests.
In some parts of Pommern, towards the end of the evening of dancing, there was a "WreathDance." during which every young bachelor tried to take the bride's bouquet, and the groom was obligated to defend it. While in other areas, the bride would throw her bridal bouquet in the air and the young unmarried girls would try to catch it. Who ever caught it was expected to be the next bride. The last dance was the "Broom Dance," during which a young man would ride the broom between the dancing couples, and when he dropped the broom, the lady was his partner. Everyone would try to get a new partner, and whoever was left had to dance with the broom.
The bride's parent's home was usually decorated with flags, embroidered with the couple's initials, hung high on the building. Three separated bottles were hung there too. The third day after the wedding was the party of the bullet. The groom was challenged to shoot one of the bottles, with a gun of the guests choice. This was not an easy task especially since they had been partying for three days.
The house was usually decorated with different themes each day. On the last day of the celebration, arcs were made out of the center of palm tree leaves. The bridal couple would walk underneath the arcs, symbolizing that their love would last an eternity.
The bridal couple would host a party on the Sunday after the wedding to demonstrate their graciousness and generosity. It was also an opportunity to show off the bride's trousseau and the gifts they had received. The following Tuesday was moving day and everything was loaded onto a wagon and driven to the groom's farm- yard. Oftentimes a rooster was stolen from the bride's farm to be let loose at the groom's farm. The resulting rooster fight was to foretell whether the groom or the bride would "rule the roost" in the marriage; this was determined by which rooster won the fight.
If the bridal couple did not host a large wedding, a Polterabend, was usually organized by the bridal couple's young friends. They would gather their kitchen utensils to bang on, old pottery to break, and whatever else they could find to make a lot of noise. The noise continued until the bridal pair rewarded them for their efforts. The young noise- makers would bring small gifts and often chickens to be used for the dinner the next day. These young friends sometimes played tricks on the bridal couple, such as putting an old buggy or other items on the roof top of their house. The bridal couple was expected to clean up the mess and bury the pottery pieces behind the house before sunrise. This indicated that the couple would have a peaceful married life.
Some superstitions connected with weddings were: 1. The bride was not to look back on her walk to the church as it was thought to symbolize that she was thinking of the things she had left behind. 2. If one of the wedding bands were to fall, it was thought that the person who dropped it would be the first to die. 3. As the couple walked from the church, they were to take the first steps together as man and wife and walk very close to each other. This was to prevent any bad vibes or evil powers from coming between them.
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Baptismal Customs - When a child was born in Pommern, the father would plant a tree in the garden. If the child was a boy, he would plant an apple tree, If the child was a girl, he would plant a pear tree, and for twins a cherry tree. It was believed the child would then grow up to be good and strong.
The Pomeranians had many superstitions, perhaps originating from pagan customs prior to their conversion to Christianity. This one came into play when a baby was born during the period between an individual's death and his burial. They feared that the dead person's spirit could cause the child to die, or that it would cause the baby to become an evil person. The parents of the child would frantically call the pastor, even in the middle of the night, to come and baptize the child immediately. The baptism had to be done at once to prevent the death of the child.
The baptism of healthy babies was done normally following the first regular Sunday church service after its birth. The congregation would stay for the baptism, so that the ceremony was thought to be part of the service. It was a common practice for the parents to remain at home while the Godparents took the child to church. The parents usually chose two male relatives of the father and a female relative of the mother as sponsors (Godparents) of a male child, and two female relatives of the mother and a male relative of the father for a female child. This position carried great responsibilities. They were to guarantee that the child was taught their Christian faith and serve as an example for the child by "living a good Christian life." They were also expected to take over as parents of the child, if something happened to the parents. It was customary for the Godparents to remember the child with a present on their birthdays and at Christmas until the child was confirmed.
There was a close relationship between the Godparents and their Godchild, but this also had some superstitious omens. For instance, if the Godmother carried the child quickly to the church, it was believed that the child would walk early. It was believed in some areas that the Godparent must use their right hand to bestow presents to the child, otherwise the child would be left handed. The Godparent also should never touch the child while wearing gloves, or the child would then have weak and tiny hands. Shortly after the baptism, the godparents would slip their "Patengeschenk" under the pillow where the child lay. In earlier times this was usually two Taler. These were put in a box-like envelope and a pious verse was written on the envelope.
The baptism of twins also brought another superstition into play. The pastor, knowing that twins were born, would be taken by surprise when he was presented with only one child to be Christened. When questioned regarding this, the parents stated that it was a family custom not to baptize the twins together; there was no other explanation. Most likely this resulted from some confusion between certain superstitions and the baptismal customs. It was also thought important that a male child and a female child should not be baptized with the same water, otherwise the male child would never grow a beard, but the female child would.
Many Pomeranians also believed that the baptismal water had healing powers. This lead one woman to make a milk-soup out of the water, which she used as a cure-all for her children whenever they were sick.
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Death and the Funerals - When the time came that good Christian Pomeranians knew death was near, they called the Pastor to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion to insure their peace with God. When the final moments of life was eminent, the windows in the room were opened and the close relatives stepped away from the bed to allow the dead person's soul to go directly to heaven with no obstacles in its path. Everyone then prayed and/or sang hymns. The clocks were all stopped at the moment of death and a black cloth was hung on the entrances to the home and also all over the mirrors. This was done to keep all satanic powers away.
In some areas of Pomerania, on the day after the death, the church bells would toll, counting out the deceased person's age, In other areas they rang out at three intervals, the first time as the gravediggers removed the sod from the grave site, then again when the digging was done, and the third time when they completed their work.
The dead person's body was washed and dressed in his/her finest clothing and laid out in a coffin in the parlor or on the dining room table, with their feet towards the door. The body had to be carried out that same way to protect the mourners from being carried along.
The coffin was taken to the cemetery on a horse-drawn farm wagon. The horses were watched closely during this ritual. If they turned their heads in the direction of a home along the way, it was believed someone in that house would be the next to die; and if they stopped in front of a house, a person in that house would die soon.
It was customary for all the mourners to go the church from the cemetery to attend the funeral service. Usually a large dinner was served after the church service; it traditionally included chicken soup. The meal started off on a somber note, but after several servings of brandy, some of the tenseness disappeared and the tongues were loosened. Gradually, the the mourners became more cheerful and they began to enjoy each others company.
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New Year's Eve (Sylvester) -
The night of the Holy Sylvester, the last night of the year, has always been the night of fools and a funny good time. The saint of this day, Pope Sylvester I, according to legend is the man who was healed from leprosy and baptized the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.There was a great amount of drinking, dancing and singing at the "Sylvester Balls" held that night. As the old year ended and the new year was about to begin, everyone refilled their glasses with champagne or wine. Then the hugs and kissing began, accompanied with "ein gutes neues Jahr." The bells throughout Germany rang and many revelers ran out in the streets to enjoy the merry sounds. There was usually some private fireworks displays and the sounds of shooting was often heard along with the ringing bells.
Naturally, there were some superstitions connected with Sylvester. People dropped molten lead into cold water and then interpreted the shape it made into a future event they believed would take place in the coming year. If the shape could be interpreted as a heart or a ring - it meant a wedding, a ship meant a journey, a pig meant there would be a year of plenty, etc.
Traditionally, carp was eaten on Sylvester; it was believed it brought future wealth. It was also important to leave a bit of each type of food on the dinner plate, which was to remain there until after midnight. This insured that they would have plenty of food throughout the coming year.
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May Day (Erster Mai)- In Germany , the first day of May is a national holiday, similar to Labor Day in the USA. It is the International Workers' Day - Tag der Arbeit, when workers gather for rallies and speeches, to collectively express their unity. Also a variety of May festivals take place.
After the dreariness of winter, and the green fields and trees appeared again, the celebration of spring on May Day was a joyous event, a symbol of spring’s reawakening to fruitfulness. Maiglöckchen (May-bells) began to bloom and chocolate Maikäfer (May beetles) were available in the stores for the children. It inspired many romantic poems and songs like "Mairegen bringt Segen" (rain in May brings blessings).
There were also ceremonial plantings of seedlings or small trees; homes and dance halls were decorated with flowers and green leaves. In some areas Maypoles were set up and there was community dancing around it, holding hands, dancing, enjoying spirits, usually Maiwein (May wine). It was a happy day away from the workplaces.
Maiwein (May Wine), a white wine, dedicated to springtime and flavored with fresh Waldmeister, an old-world herb, a small plant with white blossoms, decorative and grown in a shady corner of a German's herb garden. It is used for flavoring only in May, when the new leaves are tender.
Historically, May was known as the "Wonnemond," the month of lovers, when a young man's fancy turned to love. The young bachelors organized parties and dances to romance the young maidens of the area. Over the years, the Maubaum (May-tree) lost its original meaning and became just a celebration of May and spring.
"The practice of giving peculiar gifts on various wedding anniversaries originated in Central Europe. Among the medieval Germans it was customary for friends to present a wife with a wreath of silver when she had lived with her husband twenty-five years. The silver symbolized the harmony that was assumed to be necessary to make so many years of matrimony possible. On the fiftieth anniversary of a wedding the wife was presented with a wreath of gold. Hence arose 'silver wedding' and 'golden wedding.' This practice, borrowed from the Germans, has been elaborated upon in modern times"
"The practice of giving peculiar gifts on various wedding anniversaries originated in Central Europe. Among the medieval Germans it was customary for friends to present a wife with a wreath of silver when she had lived with her husband twenty-five years. The silver symbolized the harmony that was assumed to be necessary to make so many years of matrimony possible. On the fiftieth anniversary of a wedding the wife was presented with a wreath of gold. Hence arose 'silver wedding' and 'golden wedding.' This practice, borrowed from the Germans, has been elaborated upon in modern times."
On a child's birthday the house is decorated, the dining table or kitchen has a special wooden birthday wreath placed in it. The wreath contains small holes for candles and a holder in the denter for the lifecandle. This a taller candle and is beautifully decorated. This candle is lit each year of a child's birthday until they reach the age of twelve.
The offical language is german.
The tradition of children's birthday parties first started in Germany, Kinderfeste. Kinder means child and feste means festival, or party. Historians attribute Germans with the first birthday parties for kids.
A member of the birthday person’s family wakes up at sunrise and lights the candles on the birthday cake. There are as many candles as the years of age of the birthday person plus one for good luck. The candles are left burning all day long. After dinner that night then everyone sings the birthday song and the birthday person blows out the candles. If all of the candles are blown out in one try then the wish of the birthday person will come true. Presents are then opened and the party starts.
When men reach the age of 30 and they still don't have a girlfriend that they have to sweep the stairs of the city hall. All there friends will throw rubble on the stairs and when you're finished they'll throw some more rubble there. This way every girl can see that this man reached the age of 30 and still doesn't have a girlfriend.
A bread was made in the shape of baby Jesus' swaddling clothes. Geburtstagorten is another type of German cake that has been used for birthday.