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Christmas in the Volga-German Colonies

By: Gerardo Waimann
From: Buenos Aires
Email: gerardowaimann@yahoo.com.ar

Waimann, Gerardo. "Christmas in the Volga-German Colonies." 22 December 2009.

Translated from Spanish to English by John Guerrero, Fargo, North Dakota


Being the Volga-Germans a town of profound faith, they could not be absent during Christmas time their own customs and traditions relative to the religion.  From those I could rescue from the books, familiar stories and own experiences, I can cite:

1. The forecast by the salt

An old custom of Christmas Eve was to estimate the forecast of next year’s climate by using some coarse salt. The system has some variants, but basically consists of peeling an onion or slicing 6 onions in halves.  Amongst these 12 halves placed in line (which represent the 12 months of next year), are placed a few grains of coarse salt, after which the Volga family would leave for the midnight mass (Mette) or other religious activity of this date.

At dawn, it is carefully observed in which halves the grains of salt have dissolved, of which is then considered a rainy or dry month, depending on the result. The observation is then noted, and, based on this, the fieldwork is planned.  Valid religious forecast or popular superstition?  Believe it or not, but at my grandmother’s house there is no recollection of it once having failed.

2. Christkind or Christkindie

The good children would receive a visit from Christkind on Christmas Eve, which can translated as Christ Child or God Child, and was represented by a female of the town, dressed as a fairy in her bridal gown, her face covered by a veil and a crown on her head.  She carried a lantern and some jingling little bells.

Christkind was received with religious songs then on various days of preparation (of which it is reminded to the children the need to be well behaved and pray).  With a wand in hand, (as by tradition would strike heat to disobedient children), she would ask questions in regards to the principles of the Christian faith, and, before leaving, she would give them candy and presents.

3. Pelznickle or Pelznickö

The eternal fight between good and evil had its representations amongst the Volga-Germans: of the kindness and love that Christkind involves there was an opposing terror that would cause amongst rebellious children by Pelznickel (hairy Nicolas or Nicolas with fur covering).

This sinister character, strange mix of Papa Noel / Santa Claus, demonstrator and evil willed, (and of which my brothers, cousins and myself became victims one Christmas Eve in Darregueira, Buenos Aires, about 35 years ago) it was preceded days before as by the accounts of the adults that, prepared the fields, amongst the numerous offspring that played in the streets of the villages, singing terrible stories about this infamous man that would come to punish those who had misbehaved during the year.

Pelznickle had a displeasing feature: he would dress up in old clothes, a long messy beard, at times he had his face covered by a hood so as not to be recognized, and usually, dragged a loud chain, of which, as the story is told by adults, was used to bind the filthy and disobedient children, and then hurl them into a hole in the ground.

In our particular case, Pelznickle presented himself after Christmas Eves supper and (before the accomplice silence of the adults) with his harsh voice and brandishing his chain he accused us of  our failures and he compelled us to pray so as not to take us with him, he made my little sister cry desperately.  Then, in a life forgiving act, he left us caramels and left.

(With this story one can easily appreciate that our German forefathers were not much supporters of the infantile psychological theories of Jean Piaget.  Rather said that they were devotees of the pedagogical system of the alpargata).

This is my small contribution for these Holidays.  Cordial greetings and Merry Christmas to all.
By chance of doubt close the door well this Christmas Eve, so that Pelznickel may not enter.

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