Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Pelznickel saved Pennsylvania Christmas from the Quaker Scrooge

A Modern Day Pezlnickel ready to scare the kids at Landis Valley Museum

Today is "Second Christmas" and it was once a legal holiday in Pennsylvania. Second Christmas remains a legal holiday in Germany and is celebrated in England as Boxing Day and Ireland as St Stephens Day. I think we lose something with one day of Christmas as I once blogged about here.
I know I need more than one day. Western Pennsylvania Winter is a monotony of dark grey days and long cold nights. When nature is like that, God seems to me like a remote, uncaring, unhearing, entity. Thinking about God as a baby coming into a cold dark world into a barn full of  urine and feces is a good antidote for Winter's darkness: Truly Emmanuel.      

That Pennsylvania has any Christmas is largely thanks to the Pennsylvania Germans (once known as "Dutch"). Pennsylvania was the most ethnically diverse of all the original states, with English, Scots-Irish, and Germanic people each composing about a third of the population in 1790. The Quakers who founded the colony were once death on the holiday and still seem to be somewhat  uncomfortable with it, as were many of the Mennonite groups. The Scots-Irish who took their religion seriously were also anti-Christmas, bowing to the traditions of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Pennsylvania Christmas was once the sole domain of a tiny Anglican minority and the Lutheran and German Reformed (who have always been far more numerous than the Plain sects). Even stalwart German Calvinists never seemed to have the issue with Christmas that the British Puritans did. The season began with Pelznickel scaring the kids, special Christmas markets,  and actual Christmas was regarded as a 48 hour feast of sausage, music, conviviality, and real hard cider.

The idea of a Christmas Holiday created a political issue in the state legislature in the early Nineteenth Century.  The Dutchmen wanted to close down state government for not just one day, but TWO! They won that fight, and by the time of the Civil War even New England states got somewhat on board with the holiday. Somewhere along the way though, we lost that 24 extra hours to party!

Froliche Zweite Weihnachten!