Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, December 27, 1975, Image 42

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    42—Uncwttr Farming. Saturday, Ptc. 27. 1975
Cloister decorations depict
older holiday traditions
By Sally Bair
Farm Feature Writer
The traditions of Christmas, passed on from generation
to generation, are what makes each family’s Christmas
very special and different from every other family.
While customs vary from family to family, in
southeastern Pennsylvania many traditions are German
in origin because of the predominant German influence in
this area.
Ephrata Cloisters was the scene this Christmas season
of candlelight tours organized by the Cloister chapter of
the Pennsylvania Federation of Junior Historians. The
Junior Historians are sponsored by the Cloister
Associates which worked closely with them in researching
and carrying out the traditions of bygone Christmases.
John L Kraft, curator of the Ephrata Cloiser, explained
that the Cloister community did not celebrate Christmas
during the mid-lftth century when it flourished. The
celebration itself was considered a transference of
heathen ideas, and so, while they recognized the birth of
Christ, there was no celebration of the event.
The Junior Historians noted that religious sects such as
Episcopalians, Moravians Lutherans and other “Gay
Dutch” did believe in celebrating Christmas, but Men
nonites, Quakers and Presbyterians didn’t celebrate.
Kraft said, however, that the Cloister buildings are used
today to serve as a background for community Christmas
celebrations, and therefore the buildings are decorated
very simply in what would have been considered ap
propriate to that period.
Mrs. Shirley Bischoff, advisor to the Junior Historians,
explained that the young people decided to do the tours to
interpret Christmas customs in the German tradition and
show how some of our present customs were derived.
Tour participants were welcomed to the Cloister
buildings by the glow of tiny electric candles in each of the
small windows in every building in the complex. The
guide explained that the reason for the tradition of the
lighted candle in windows was to welcome and light the
way for the Christ Child.
The Moravian star which hangs in front of the gift shop
was a big attraction. The secret of making these many
pointed stars was passed down from mother to daughter
in Moravian families.
In the householder’s cabin a simple German family
Christmas was depicted. On the hearth in fro£ of the
fireplace a cradle was placed to represent the nativity
scene. -The first nativity scene is said to have been
prepared by St. Francis of Assissi who set out a live
creche in the year 1223. It was very simple but the people
and animals were real. A cradle was always used because
a mother rocking the cradle indicated love between
mother and son, Mrs. Bischoff explained.
Also in the hearth was a basket of rye straw. The straw
was to be given to the donkey ridden by the Christ Child
and the Christ Child, the giver of gifts, would fill the
basket with candies.
There was also a simple tree, decorated with straw
figures, candies, gilded walnuts, pine cones, candy canes,
molded cookies, paper stars and scratched eggs.
Germany was the home of the Christmas tree, ac
cording to the guide, and the idea of a tree originated with
Martin' Luther. Before 1600 the trees were ringed with
candles or a pyramid of candles was placed beside too
The guide explained that the first decorations were
Country Comer
It was 11 years ago this holiday that my
Christmas dream came true, thanks to my parents
and especially my brother, Roland
Ever since I had received my pony, dusty the
previous June, there was nothing I wanted more
than a saddle'
Dad had financed Dusty, but there just wasn’t
enough for a saddle too, so I had spent the summer
riding bareback and using borrowed tack, but I was
anxious to have my own real equipment
For months, I had been peering into the Sears
catalog and leaving it conveniently open on Dad’s
desk - just so he'd remember It was even a trial for
my brother or parents to take me near the hard
ware store as I’d usually meander to the tack/
section and be hard to coax away Ves, I really
wanted a "genuine” saddle 1
A Christmas dream co
probably oranges and apples, which gave way to our
brightly colored balls. And sacramental wafers were once
used which then envolved into our molded cookies of
The print shop was In operation, with a Christmas
greeting from 1798 being printed. The greeting was In both
English and German and was printed on the third press to
be used in the Cloister, having been installed in 1804.
The Saal kitchen featured pomander balls hung on the
fireplace and a tree with tiny lights banging full of the
simple folded paper stars. An interesting table decoration
of that time and In the “Williamsburg” tradition waa an
“apple pyramid.” Three cabbage beads formed the base.
They were stacked and bald together with a knife. Then
apples were attached to wooden stakes and stuck into the
cabbages to form a pyramid effect. Greens were added to
complete the decoration.
In the refectory, a special treat awaited tour goers.
Moravian sugar cookies were served with hot chocolate
and coffee, and the table decoration waa a “light stock,”
which was a foregunner of the green Christmas tree. It
was a post into which arms had been set, and on the arms
were placed lighted candles.
In the Saal itself, an Advent wreath had been placed. It
was made of greens and four natural colored candies. A
single candle was also a tradition of the church,
representing the star of Bethlehem. -
There was also a special “Krippen,” or “Puts” from
which came our manger scene as we know it today.
Figures were carved by the fathers and sons in a family
and dressed by the mothers and daughters. These figures
became cherished possessions.
The guide explained that this nativity scene was placed
under a tree, and gradually envolved into barnyard
scenes, ice skating scenes with mirrors for ponds and
today we find train yards and other-scenery at the base of
the tree as part of the decorations.
But how did Santa Claus become such a big part of our
celebration? That too envolved through some customs of
the church. In Germany there is a figure known as
Belsnickle or Knecht Huprecbt who represented the devil.
He dressed in balck with a blackened face and on
December 6, Saint Nicholas chained Belsnickle and took
him as his servant as he made the rounds of homes. Saint
Nicholas was the messenger for the Christkind and candy
and cookies were given to the good children while
Belsnickle carried switches for those who may have
strayed during the year.
It was a special surprise to be greeted by Saint
Nicholas, the Christkind and Belsnickle as the tour was
completed. The Christkind very generously distributed
goodies to all, but Belsnickle did not seem to have much
cause for giving out sticks.
The Junior Historians used many sources as they
researched old customs and unearthed interesting tidbits
about Christmases of the past. A Lancaster newspaper
account of 1808 talked about a “second Christmas” which
was celebrated the day after Christmas in much the same
way as Christmas day, but the observance was not a
religious one.
Another account told about a menu to turkey, gravy,
potato filling, bread and apple butter.
Think about the customs which your family has just
observed. Perhaps some of yours have been explained and
become more meaningful to you because of their roots in
the celebrations of another century.
in fact, 1 kept telling my father that if I saw a big
Sears box under the tree - then my Christmas
dream would come true. My mom and dad would
always laugh at this comment and nod their heads
Although I kept hoping, 1 knew that saddles
weren't the cheapest item to come by and when
December rolled around, I resigned myself to the
fact that if I don’t get a saddle for Christmas, it
might come a little later next year. .
I was up early that Christmas morning and
bounded downstairs quickly. My heart must have
been near my throat, beating wildly, and I’m sure
my body must have been quivering. I ran to the tree
and glanced around quickly, but there was no Sears
box or any box big enough to hide a saddle and 1 felt
a lump quickly rise m my throat.
My parents and brother filtered down the steps