Easter and Christmas Practices

of the Germans of Radautz

Franz Wiszniowski
Radautz: Deutscheste Stadt des Buchenlandes,
(By the author: Waiblingen, 1966), pp. 307-309.
translated by Sophie A. Welisch, PhD.

Posted July 18, 2004

Until their [1940] resettlement the Germans of Radautz faithfully practiced their Easter and Christmas customs brought with them by the German Bohemian immigrants from the Bohemian Forest. Since these immigrants, as well as more than nine-tenths of the Radautz Germans were Roman Catholics, it follows that the traditions described here were practiced by the greatest number of the German Catholic families.

About two weeks before Easter, barley, grass or hay was planted in a plate or box filled with soil. By Holy Saturday, the day on which a large number of eggs were dyed in every family, a lovely greenery had developed from these seeds, in which were placed either colored eggs or an Easter lamb made of sugar. This then served as a centerpiece for the Easter table.

On the eve of Holy Saturday each family sent one of its number with the Easter foods, most of them consisting of a type of white bread (Strietzel, or Gugelhopf), ham or baloney, dyed eggs and radish to the Roman Catholic parish garden where the foods were blessed by the priest. The blessed foods, to which a jigger of whisky was generally added, then constituted the family breakfast on Easter Sunday morning.

After breakfast the children searched out their godparents, as well as the next of kin, in order to wish them a happy Easter. The customary verse went as follows:

I wish, I wish, I know not what.
Behind the stove there sits a hare.
Reach in your pocket and give me something.
After this they received dyed eggs and that which caused even greater delight: a few coins.

Easter Monday was dedicated to “sprinkling.” The men sought out relatives or acquaintances, the boys their girls, wished them a happy Easter, and then asked for permission to sprinkle them with water, which naturally met with approval. The lady of the house, who was the first in line, walked to a vat especially prepared for this purpose, and leaned over it, whereupon the guest poured a glass or drops of water over her neck, for which she then thanked him. There followed in a row the other female members of the family. Older ladies did not have water poured over their necks but rather over their hands. The girls were usually doused with greater quantities of water, whereby the boys took special care that the water ran over the girl’s back. For the sprinkling the guest received a dyed egg and also whiskey and baked goods. Much more polite were the boys on promenade on the street in front of the church, where they lined up in rows and sprinkled cologne on the passing girls.

Easter Monday, which was celebrated in most German Bohemian families, gave the women and girls an opportunity to sprinkle the men, although they naturally made less use of this right than did the stronger of the sexes.

During the Easter holidays the striking together of the eggs was a beloved practice among old and young alike. Two people, each holding a dyed egg in his hand, approached each other and very lightly touched their eggs together. The owner of the egg, which had remained intact, then claimed as his prize the egg whose shell had been broken.

At Christmas almost every German family put up a Christmas tree. From Christmas Eve until Three Kings’ Day [January 6] the festivities focused on two specific Radautz Christmas customs: singing at the manger and the Herodian play.

Three or four boys between ten and fourteen years of age constructed a manger about 80 cm. wide and 50 cm. high, which they illuminated with Christmas tree candles. With this manger they went from house to house, singing the lovely old manger song in every one of them.

Come, little children, come, everyone
to the manger; do come to Bethlehem’s stall
and see the happiness the Father in
heaven has prepared for you!

Oh, see at the manger in the nightly stable,
see here by the light of the brilliant ray
the heavenly child in swaddling clothes,
lovelier and more gracious than even the angels.

Here he lies, the infant on hay and on straw.
Mary and Joseph behold him in awe
The honest shepherds kneel praying
while high above choirs of angels are singing.

Oh, bow, as the shepherds
praying on bended knee;
lift your hands
and give thanks as they do!
Happily join the angels in their jubilation.

Whereupon they asked for a small gift, which in fact they received.

A Herodian group consisted of adolescent boys dressed as a red and a black knight, a king, and three wise men. All had long beards, the king had a cape of white linen which reached to his ankles; the wise men wore white linen shirts extending below the knees and tied together by a leather belt; and the knight, depending on his name, had on a red or black leather jacket. The head covering of the king and the wise men consisted of a crown decorated with Christmas paper chains and small bell, while that of the knight was in the style of a dragoon’s helmet with a bell at its tip. In addition every knight carried a wooden lance. While traversing the city streets the knights asked at the individual houses: ”We ask to enter with our three worldly-wise men.” If they received an affirmative reply, the group entered the living room, took their positions and sang various Herodian songs. Between individual songs a knight would hit the floor with his lance and say:

I am the red (or black) knight from the Orient.
The sun has burned me red (or black).
I was born red (or black) and selected as knight.

In conclusion they asked for a gift and took their leave with the song:

We thank you for these gifts, which we have received from master and mistress.
We thank you for the nice and fine gifts and ask for a glass of wine.
A glass of wine and a piece of bread are for us a happy death.

The urban custom of singing in front of house windows on Christmas Eve and with the “Buhai” on New Year’s Eve was practiced primarily by the Romanians. There were no Germans songs for this occasion.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Day the children searched out their godparents in order to wish them a happy NewYear. Their verse ran as follows:

I wish you a happy New Year,
a Christ child with curly hair,
at every corner of the table a baked fish
in the midst of a jug of wine
and the happiness of godfather and godmother.

They then proceeded to the relatives where, according to the degree of relationship, they changed the words “godfather and godmother” to “sister and brother-in-law,” “uncle and aunt,” etc.

On the day preceding the feast day of the Three Kings a large barrel filled with water was set up on the parish grounds. After the blessing of the water by the priest, the adults who were present filled their bottles, cans or jugs with blessed water and took it home. Starting from the day after the feast day of the Three Kings, the priest conducted a “house blessing” down each street. For this purpose and in the company of the organist he went to the homes, i.e., the dwelling places of his parishioners and blessed them with the “Three Kings’ water” and, where available, also the stables; then the organist, with a blessed crayon, wrote on all upper door frames the initials of the Three Kings, namely K + M + B [Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar] and the date.