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December 2008 - Posts

  • German Christmas at the Tavern presented by Patti Kierys

    This year's "German Christmas", an educational and Christmas social, sponsored by the Barkhamsted Historical Society and presented by Christmas expert Patti Kierys was a huge success. The program was both educational and fun. Patti is well versed and well qualified on the subject of Christmas traditions and shared her vast wealth of knowledge with approximately 60 people who were in attendance.

     

     
    (photo) Patti Kierys during her presentation of German Christmas at the Tavern.

     

    Patti's qualifications include designing Christmas trees during the Weiker and Roland years at the Connecticut Governor's Mansion.  She has designed ornaments for the Mark Twain Christmas Tree. Patti created two trees for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  Patti decorated the Connecticut Christmas tree for two years that was part of the National Tree ceremony on the Eclipse of  White House.  Patti also took part in the Wasdworth Festival of Trees for several years. In addition to her extensive experience,  Patti is also a featured artist in the book Christmas in Connecticut.

     


    (photo) Christmas in Connecticut - Examples of Patti Kiery's hand-made ornaments 

     

    Patti shared many stories about the origins of the Christmas tree, Christmas tree decorating, hand made ornaments, gingerbread and other Christmas traditions. It is widely believed that the Christmas tree tradition emerged in Germany in the 16th century. However, the Yule or winter festival celebrated on the winter solstice can be traced to Roman times and also involved the decorating of a tree.1 The Egyptians, even though they did not decorate a tree, would bring a green date palm tree into their homes to symbolize life's success during the solstice.2  One of the stories Patti shared was that during early colonial times, Christmas trees were actually outlawed because of their association with these earlier pagan rituals. The Puritans considered Christmas to be sacred and believed it should only be observed with a religious service.

     


    (photo) The Christmas tree used during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

    "The pilgrims' second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event." In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy."3

     

    John Ullmann, a former owner of the building we refer to as Squire's Tavern, was one of these immigrants. He and his family immigrated from Germany in 1884 and purchased the former Squire's farm in 1885.

     


    (photo) Ullmann Family portrait. John and Augusta, Johanna-Oswald and thee girls.

     

    "Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans."

     


    (photo) Table top Christmas tree used during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

    Patti explained that early American Christmas trees were very often small table top trees. These trees were placed in a room and kept off limits while being decorated. They would not be displayed until Christmas eve. The trees would have had hand made ornaments. Many were figures comprised of paper faces and cotton batting. Sweetmeats and gingerbread were baked and hung on the tree. Guests would have been invited to take these baked treats. Popcorn garlands would also adorn early trees. Some hand blown glass ornaments, imported from Germany may also have decorated these early trees.

     

     
    (photo) Hand-made ornament used to decorate the Christmas tree during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     


    (photo) Hand-made ornaments used to decorate the Christmas tree during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

     
    (photo) Hand-made ornaments used to decorate the Christmas tree during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

     
    (photo) Hand-made ornament used to decorate the Christmas tree during the German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

     
    (photo) Hand blown glass ornaments or Kugels, used to demonstrate German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

    Another story Patti shared was about the origin of tinsel on a Christmas tree. The story goes something like this: A woman was cleaning her house in preparation for the Christmas celebration. She swept her house so well that the spiders had no place to hide. Somehow they ended up hiding in the Christmas tree and when the tree was lit, the webs shone in the candle light. Gold and silver tinsel are meant to represent the spiders web.

     

    The lighting of the Christmas trees was not without risk. Early trees were decorated with candles and lit for only a short period. A bucket of water would have been kept on hand since the chance of a fire was a very real and a dangerous possibility.

     


    (photo) Hand-made ornament collection used to demonstrate German Christmas at the Tavern program by Patti Kierys.

     

    Patti displayed and discussed her vast collection of Christmas ornaments. She also discussed the origins of our modern day Santa Claus and many other interesting facets of Christmas traditions. From Christmas trees atop of buildings and construction sites to the origins and purposes of both the greeting card and calling card.

     

    If you missed this great and informative program, mark your calendars for next year. You can also head over to Squires Tavern to view the decorations and exhibits until the end of the year.

     

    Thank you Patty, on behalf of the Barkhamsted Historical Society, for sharing your time and expertise to present a very informative and enjoyable program.

     

     
    (photo) Gingerbread replica of Squire's Tavern (front view). Created and donated by Richard, Colleen and George English.

     


    (photo) Gingerbread replica of Squire's Tavern (rear view). Created and donated by Richard, Colleen and George English.

     

    The Christmas Tree was donated by Homegrown Farms, Route 44 in Barkhamsted. The wreath was donated by Aerie Mountain, Route 44 in Barkhamsted. Gingerbread houses created and donated by Richard, Colleen and George English, Barkhamsted.

     

    Sources:

    1. Wikipedia - "Yule".

    2. Christmas Tree Farm Network - "Christmas Tree Tradition has Ancient Origins".

    3. History.com - "Christmas, How It All Got Started".

    4. History.com - "Christmas, How It All Got Started".

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