Christmas Traditions from Germany

20131205-212650.jpg Tonight is the eve of Nikolaustag or St. Nicholas Day! the feast day Nicholas, a bishop from Myra (Turkey) who died circa 350 A.D. Over the centuries, the stories associated with this patron saint of children have continued to bring this legend from Germany to life. On the eve of December 6, dressed like a bishop, he walked the streets. Children had placed their wooden shoes filled with hay for his white horse outside the door, hoping they would wake to find them filled with candy and gifts. Today, children still hang their stockings in hopes of waking to find them filled with candy and toys.
It is this figure in history who inspired Clement Moore, a professor at the Episcopal Church’s Theological Seminary in New York to write “A Visit From St. Nick” in 1824, creating the confusion between the December 6 patron saint and Santa Claus. In the pagan origins of the St. Nicholas legend, the evil demonic Knecht Ruprecht accompanied him, carried a switch and gave whippings to children who had been bad. Thus, comes the naughty or nice question that children debate to this day.
After the Reformation, Martin Luther wanted to divert the adoration of saints and have the children happily receive their gifts on Christmas Eve instead. The “Holy Christ” brought the children’s gifts, and in due time this was embodied as an angelic, beautiful golden-robed “Christkind”, representing the Christ Child. Today, many of the beautiful, brightly lit Chriskindlmarkts are opened on December 6, by the angelic Christkind. The open air markets, sometimes called Weihnacht markets, or Christmas Markets, are filled with candy, trinkets, ornaments, and all sorts of beautiful gifts. In some parts of Protestant Germany, the Christkind is replaced by the Wiehnachtsmann, or the figure of Father Christmas.
So many of our Christmas traditions have come from Germany with our ancestors. The Advent Calendar filled with delicious chocolates, with its little windows, help our children count down the days til Christmas. Even the Christmas tree, the Tannenbaum, was brought to America by our German ancestors. Documents reveal that in 1832, a tree with “7 dozen wax tapers, gilded egg cups, paper cornucopia filled with comfits, lozenges and barley sugar” was found in the home of Karl Follen, a literature professor at Harvard University, who had been born in Giessen Germany. His brother, Paul Follenius emigrated to Missouri in 1834, surely bringing the custom here as well. And Fröhliche Weihnachten, or Merry Christmas, was the greeting passed from friend to friend.

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The Osage

 

The Osage in Saint Charles

When French Canadian Louis Blanchette (1739-1793), founder of the City of Saint Charles, arrived in 1769, his only neighbors were the American Indians. The Sauk, Fox, Pottowatomie and Osage were the predominant tribes, using the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers for passage, to trade furs with the settlers in St. Louis.

The Osage had been shoved eastward from the Ohio valley into Illinois, then here. Here, the tall fierce tribe would often clash with the others tribes over hunting grounds. They soon developed a closer relationship with the French-Canadians fur traders and other white settlers than some tribes, often intermarrying.

As our area was traded back and forth between Spain and France, settlers from Kentucky and Virginia moved in. They followed the friends and families of trailblazer Daniel Boone, who had come in search of a wide frontier. As the early settlers found themselves United States residents again, with the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, the American Indians were overwhelmed. With the white man came disease, killing thousands. Everyone fought for the land, the British, the Spanish claimants, the American pioneers, and the Native Americans.

In the east, the War of 1812, often called the second Revolutionary War, would also affect us. Here, it was better known as the Indian War. While the settlers built forts in defense of depredations by Indians, the original residents fought for a way of life, and a land, that had been their home for ages. Afterwards, the settlers flooded the land once home for many tribes, including the Osage, and treaties were made. A treaty of 1804 had stated

the said tribes do hereby solemnly promise and agree that they will put an end to the bloody war which has heretofore raged between their tribes and those of the Great and Little Osages.

When William Clark led his men The Corps of Discovery westward with Meriwether Lewis, he had spotted an ideal prominent point, which would later officially become Fort Clark, known by all as Fort Osage. He would return, led by Nathan Boone, by using what became the Boone’s Lick trail. In 1808, at Fort Clark,

The United States being anxious to promote peace, friendship and intercourse with the Osage tribes, to afford them every assistance in their power, and to protect them from the insults and injuries of other tribes of Indians, situated near the settlements of the white people, have thought proper to build a fort on the right bank of the Missouri.

George C. Sibley (1782-1863) would be appointed the fort’s manager, called the factor.
By 1815, the United States would treaty with all tribes, at Portage des Sioux along the Mississippi, including the Osage.

A treaty of peace and friendship, made and concluded between William Clark, Ninian Edwards, and Auguste Chouteau, Commissioners Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, on the part and behalf of the said States, of the one part; and the undersigned King, Chiefs, and Warriors, of the Great and Little Osage Tribes or Nations, on the part and behalf of their said Tribes or Nations, of the other part.

Gottfried Duden

Saint Charles County is one of the most predominantly German in its ethnic heritage in the State of Missouri. Missouri being one the most German in the U.S. as well, makes us one of the largest in the country. Ever wonder why that is? Some historians cite a small self-published book, published in 1829 by a German named Gottfried Duden, “A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America“.

Born May 19, 1789 in the city of Remscheid, the middle child in a family of five children of Leonhard and Maria Duden. His father, owner of a large pharmaceutical company, died when he was only six. He grew up and took on the profession of law, in a time when Germany was in a lot of turmoil. Following the Napoleonic wars, the huge population was suffering with famine, and huge taxes imposed by the rulers in response to a rising revolution. After seeing the successful rebellions, in America and France, many Germans felt that a united country would be stronger and able to defend itself, thus ending the years of wars it had seen. Young Duden listened to their problems and saw the young far western U.S., filling with the friends and family of the world famous Daniel Boone, as the place to be.

Emigration books, as they were called, were not a new thing at that time. Hundreds were being published at that time, suggesting emigration to Russia, England, and South America. Many written by authors that had never even been to the places they were writing about. How could their advice be trusted Duden wondered, and so he began planning a journey for himself. He bought land, in what was yet to be, the State of Missouri. He hired a professional farmer, named Ludwig Eversmann, and brought him and his cook Gertrude, and headed for his farm on Lake Creek, in the Missouri River valley west of Saint Charles. He stayed here from 1824 till 1827, writing a series of letters describing life that was first published in Germany in 1829, a best seller in its day.

For many, Duden’s book was the right words at the right time. Some were critical! They said everything was not the same in 1830s as he had described in his 1824 letter. Duden responded that they didn’t understand or get the point. He was accused of painting a picture in words, of a Utopia or Garden of Eden. Many Germans, such as Friedrich Steines, defended him saying

“while all is not exactly as he (Duden) described, in some ways it was better.”

To the Germans that needed to get government permission to move, marry, or even cut firewood, American’s freedoms were enviable. Where your family ate more meat in a week, than they did in a year back home. Where estate law ruled the rights of inheritance to the eldest child, the right to own as many acres of land as you could afford, and leave it to all of your children was unbelievable. The right to vote and chose your rulers and the freedom to say whatever you thought of them, without fear, was amazing. You decided what church you wanted to attend, what kind of school your children would have, and yes they would receive a free education. You decided your own profession and your own future. What was there to not like?

There will always be some anxious to criticize though. The language and the customs were foreign. They had slaves in some states, allowing a profit and making some wealthy aristocrats. The weather was not like Duden had described. (Who has seen more than two identical Missouri winters or summers?) Sometimes, we have to find something or someone to blame for our failure. Duden tried to defend himself, as further editions of his book were published, and thousands continued to immigrate.

The decision to emigrate is a personal one, and there were as many reasons as there were Germans. Historians estimate over 20,000 came to Missouri during the 1830s. Many of those wrote letters home to family and friends, urging them to come, in what is known as chain migration. Today those letters could be compared to tweets and You Tube gone viral! Apparently it is sometimes easier to trust your friends, than a wealthy attorney.

Duden died on October 29, 1856, in Germany, without ever returning to his beautiful Missouri farm with its cows, as he had originally planned. His book “A Report on a Journey” lived on, with many attempting to follow his suggestions. And come they did! Today, many Saint Charles County residents and family historians trace their ancestors back to Germany. As Missouri became a gateway to the west for American pioneers, it became home to generations of Germans, with towns like Hamburg, Melle, and Cappeln. Many of us still today think Duden definitely got it right!