Weihnachtsfest set for Dec. 5The James Valley Chapter of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society is celebrating its fourth annual Weihnachtsfest on Dec. 5 and the public is invited to join them in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
By: By Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
The James Valley Chapter of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society is celebrating its fourth annual Weihnachtsfest on Dec. 5 and the public is invited to join them in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
Weihnachtsfest (pronounced vie-nokts-fest) is a German celebration kicking off the Christmas holiday season. Here it’s also an opportunity to share the history and heritage of this ethnic group with food, German Christmas carols and the nativity scenes of Genie Lang.
“We used to have a big German dinner and a Christmas party at the Arts Center,” said Betty Brosz, chapter president. “But we wanted to reach out to the community and teach others about our heritage.”
The Weihnachtsfest starts at 6 p.m. with, Brosz said, “Our famous knoeffle soup, prepared by Lillian Schlecht.” Other members will be lending a hand, but it’s Schlecht’s recipe, which Brosz said is a good one. The soup is not a traditional Christmas dish, but for most Germans from Russia it was standard fare growing up.
“It was inexpensive and filling,” Brosz said.
“We were raised on it,” Lang added.
The price for the meal is a freewill offering.
“It was a common thing to have at Christmas in German families,” Lang said.
Once the meal is complete Mareike Geyer, a German student at Jamestown College, will entertain the group with Christmas carols sung in German. Brosz said Geyer is also designing a Web site on the German Heritage singers.
And then it’s time for Lang and her nativity sets, or creches, which is the proper term, she said. Lang will present several of her 180 creches, explaining their origin, some of the history and the meanings of the nativity pieces.
“Creches have been a fascination since I was a girl,” she said. “Creche actually means cradle or crib. And I’ll have nativity sets sitting around for people to walk around and look at.”
The nativity sets range from the very small to the large and ornate. One is an all-one-piece olivewood nativity scene that came from Bethlehem. The pieces of another set are carved out of lignite coal by a woman who lives in Beulah, N.D. There’s even a nativity scene on a boat.
Lang is one of the 130 members of the James Valley Chapter of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, so this presentation has special meaning for her. But she would have been at the Weihnachtsfest without it as the heritage of both she and her late husband is as descendents of Germans from Russia.
“My husband could speak and read German and Betty (Brosz) speaks fluent German,” she said.
Many of those who can speak German and are preserving their heritage are second or third generation in this country. Even more surprising is these Germans lived in Russia for about 200 years. Lang said Russian empress Catherine the Great invited the Germans to Russia “to teach the Russians how to farm.”
The empress allowed them to keep their language, religion and customs. They also wouldn’t be conscripted into the military. That stayed in effect until Catherine’s grandson took the throne.
“They maintained their German heritage, but they also picked some Russian customs and food,” Lang said. “When they were in Russia they spoke both languages. But they maintained the German bloodline. They didn’t want their children to marry Russians.”
They brought many of those same traits with them when they immigrated to the United States. Brosz said she spoke only German until she went to school. Lang’s husband spoke and wrote German.
One of the important parts of Weihnachtsfest here is sharing the many stories that have been handed down in the families of the Germans from Russia. Lang’s grandfather, for example, carried his naturalization papers on him until the day he died. She said he was very proud of them.
“I love to listen to people’s histories, their stories,” she said.
“We’re proud of our heritage,” Brosz added.
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org