[breadcrumb]

The Christmas Season in Dobrudzha – Remembering the Deaconess Irene Grabow

Knopp-Rüb, Gertrud. "The Christmas Season in Dobrudzha - Remembering the Deaconess Irene Grabow." Mitteilungsblatt, January 2011, 12-13.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. 


Toward the end of 1934, when I was nine years old, the Deaconess Irene Grabow arrived in our village. This was made possible by the graces of the Ev.-Lutheran High Church Council of Berlin. She had been sent to be the community nurse for the infirm and the sick.

She must have also observed soon enough that we children were lacking in intellectual and spiritual edification. Consequently she introduced Sunday school for us (the teaching being similar to that for confirmands). She gathered us, by age groups, in her own home. From her we not only learned games, crafts, and songs, but we also received steady guidance through God’s word in the Bible. She later wrote on this very subject in the Jahrbuch der Dobrudzhadeutschen 1959 [1959 Yearbook of the Dobrudzha Germans], p. 152: “I was also able to talk much about our holy days and feasts. I think back on how things were in our little church during that first Advent celebration. It was something that had never happened before, and for that reason I had prepared this celebration with some trepidation. However, it was received with so much approval that we would have such an Advent celebration every year from then on. On the first [Sunday of] Advent, carrying banners we had made ourselves, we wandered around visiting the sick, sang songs, and proclaimed God’s precious promises to them. On Christmas Eve, carrying a Christmas tree we had decorated and had wisely placed into a large basket, we moved through the village from one sick person to another, and one might really ask who felt happiest about that – the receivers or the givers.”

Our dear “Tante Irene” [Aunt Irene], as we called her, opened doors to new experiences for us, and she became a rich blessing for the entire community. She spent herLebensabend [the last part of her life] in the “Rauhen Haus” in Hamburg, where some years earlier Johann Hinrich Wiehern (1808 – 1881) [Hinrich is a Northern German version of Heinrich – Tr.] had come up with the idea for the advent wreath. He worked diligently to rescue street children and raise them in a Christian home, and with the wreath, and lighting the four candles in succession, he conscientiously and vividly made them aware of the significance of Advent time preceding the feast of Christmas.

December 28 was very important to the servants of the village, for it was the day when they had the chance to exchange stations of employment if they wished to do so, and it was yet another cause for celebration, which no one had any objections to, of course.

On “Sylvester” [the feast of St. Sylvester, a common German name for New Year’s Eve – Tr.], we said good-bye to the old year with a church service including the Lords’ Supper. Children were not included from this service because it took place late in the evening. By about 11:30 PM the bells began to toll for about fifteen minutes to ring out the old year. And at 12 AM, exactly twelve peals announced midnight. The church choir stood ready on the church steps, and after the final bell tone they would sing one of the following, “Sinnend steh’n wir an des Jahres Grenze [Reflecting, we stand at the Year’s End],” “Ach, wiederum ein Jahr vergangen [Oh, another Year has Passed],” or another song the Küsterlehrer [the teacher-assistant/pastor] might have chosen. After the choir finished singing, usually between 12:15 and 12:30 AM, the bells rang in the New Year. Many village residents, especially the youth, were present in the church area to experience the festive change of years, which on occasion might also be accompanied by the so-called “Neujahrschieβen” [“shooting in the New Year” with fireworks], sometimes near, sometimes far away. The elder folks were very much opposed to this custom, mainly because the home-made fireworks had caused many an accident.

On the morning of the New Year, people had to be up early because the children, mostly from the poorer families, would go from house to house and express good wishes for the New Year by reciting short verses or sayings. They would usually come in small groups, and one of them would carry a sack around his neck to be filled with nuts, sweets or baked goods, and another collected money. The collected goodies and moneys would later be divided up equally. Customary New Year’s sayings were the following:

Because the New Year has come,
We have decided
To wish for you a time
Of peace, happiness and blessedness.
May God in the Highest
Grant you Because the New Year has come,
We have decided
To wish for you a time
Of peace, happiness and blessedness.
May God in the Highest
Grant you
As many flakes of snow,
As many fish in the sea,
As many drops of rain,
As much happiness and as many blessings
As you need.
Happy New Year. Good morning.

I am a small King,
Do not give me too little,
Don’t let me stand here too long,
I must go on to the next house.

Good morning.

I wish you a happy New Year,
One much better than the last
And, in addition, long life.

Now comes the “fire.” (The New Year Shoot)

As many flakes of snow,
 As many fish in the sea,
As many drops of rain,
As much happiness and as many blessings
As you need.
 Happy New Year. Good morning.

I am a small King,
Do not give me too little,
Don’t let me stand here too long,
I must go on to the next house.

Good morning.

I wish you a happy New Year,
One much better than the last
And, in addition, long life.

Now comes the “fire.” (The New Year Shoot)

During the New Year’s church service, the wishing activity had to be done with, but by then it was usually already done with, anyway.

The children of our Muslim neighbors never took part in this New Year’s wishing activity, but the Romanians did. They also came to the homes of us Germans and, with the sorcova, a bundle of paper flowers, they touched the arm or stomach of whoever received them at the door, and they recited the following verse:

Sorcova, vesela,
Sä träiti, sä’n bäträniti,
Ca un mär, ca un pär,
Ca un fir de trandafir,
Tare ca piatra,
Jute sa sägeata,
La ani, la multi ani!

Long before the holidays, father had begun to collect change for the many congratulatory greeters we expected. At times even adult Romanian friends might come to our house and while wishing us happiness, they hauled wheat kernels from their pant pockets and spread them on the floor. Father would then drink a plum schnaps with them, and all assured each other of their mutual friendship.

During the New Year’s service the choir would sing just one more time, before they put in a long pause until Easter. While people were leaving the church, one could observe many shaking hands and again wishing each other a happy New Year.

The sixth of January, the feast of the Epiphany, had lesser significance for us, quite in contrast to our Romanian people, for whom this was the real start of Christmas. During the Eve of the feast of the Holy Three Kings, often even in the afternoon, the so-called “Star singers” wandered through town in small groups. Often it was one small group after another coming to the door and at times they even had to stand in line to await their turns to get to the door. The song, of which they sang parts and simply recited the rest in unison, went as follows:

The holy three kings,
They come with their star,
Looking for
The Dear Lord,
As they arrive from Herod’s house.
Herod – well, he was
Looking out his window:
“What kind of person is this black man,
He looks so strange and unfamiliar,
 Is this not the King of the Moors’ Land?
 So, give me your right hand!”
“My right hand
 I will not give you.
 You are Herod,
Therefore I trust you not.”
“I am Herod, I am well aware.
That is why I bear scepter and crown
That is why I bear the scepter
And the sword.

Can you tell me who would deny me them?”
The servant goes from house to house
Looking for little children.
“The angel has told me in a dream:
Oh, day and night Herod
Hankering for the life of a child.”
Herod, that bloodhound, wanted
To kill all little children
Not yet able to talk.
“Fie on you, you shame of the children,
I do not abide this, I do not like this,
Even if it costs my life.”

After receiving their gifts, the “Star signers” would end up with the following song:

Because you honored us
We wish that you might live this year with joy,
You and your children

And your friends and servants.
The star, this star must keep on going,
We must continue onward this evening

During that next-to-last line, “The star must keep on going,” it, as it was fastened to a wooden stick, would be turned by its carrier, and the faster he turned it, the more his performance was deemed a success. This star, the size of a soup plate, had been crafted by the singers from shiny, gold-colored paper and fastened together with glue made from flour and water – a true minor work of art. For these star singers, too, plenty of change had to be on hand, and they, too, carried a sack for goodies.    

When the feast of the Three Kings was over, decorations were removed from the Christmas trees in the church and the homes, and the trees were “allowed” to spend a little more of their existence outside in the snow. A few days alter school resumed, and everyday life returned in its humdrum ways. Still, the Christmas season continued to cast a kind of glow for a while. Icy conditions and the cold kept the folks inside their warm rooms, and only the need to feed the animals would get some to venture outside. At times, especially on sunny winter days, one might hitch the horses to a sleigh to give them some exercise and to allow the people to savor a ride through the quiet, white landscape. For the most part, however, the people enjoyed the rest and their homey comforts. Under the chimney updraft, there hung the good bratwurst, liverwurst, and blood wurst, and also the beloved stuffed animal stomach, and in the cellar the new wine was aging.

During those long evenings, one might occasionally wander over to some neighbors for a chat, or one might receive some for company – when the women might work on the wool or do some spinning. But soon, one had to think about the work outside, in the granary, and on the many pieces of equipment of which some would be put to work by March or perhaps even earlier, just as the people would have be. After all, it was their way of life.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Library North Dakota State University North Dakota State University GRHC Home