While it is only halfway through November we are starting to get things ready here on the farm for our last big event of the year: Old Time Christmas. This candle lit lantern tour explores the historic celebrations of Christmas during the 1800s, a live nativity, visits from the Belschnickel, and more. To help get ready for this event, I’ve been reading Christmas in Pennsylvania by Alfred L. Shoemaker. While a little heavy on primary sources for the casual ready, it is a great source of information exploring early celebrations in Pennsylvania by various religious groups from those who did not observe Christmas such as the Puritans and Quakers, to those who certainly did such as the Lutherans and the Moravians. Working my way through one of the early chapters I was struck by how much folklore and superstition revolved around Christmas time and I’d thought I’d share some with you.
Many of the people who settled in this part of Pennsylvania came from the Palatinate region of Germany and believed very strongly in the supernatural power of the surrounding environment. They also believed they could influence it as well. That belief found root in America too. Growing up in Chester County, Pennsylvania I remember hearing this particular story in regards to Christmas: Animals could speak on Christmas night. Shoemaker includes a little poem found in Henry L. Fisher’s Olden Times from 1888.
I used to love and sit and watch
The cobbler’s cut and the tailor’s stitch;
To hear the learned arguments,
Between those learned disputants,
Concerning elf, and ghosts, and witch,
and whether they were black, or white,
or oxen, talked on Christmas-night.
The idea of animals speaking is a common folk belief but most of the Pennsylvania Dutch beliefs take place between 11pm and midnight. During this time the animals talk, you can see your future husband or wife, cut dowsing rods for water or iron, or cast silver bullets to kill you enemy. Make sure to mark your calendar and be awake at that time.
Some of my favorite Christmas superstitions involved predicting what the next year will bring. For example: many people believed that if the ground was white at Christmas it would be green at Easter. If the ground was green at Christmas it would be white at Christmas. Or if the geese waddled in mud between Christmas and New Year they will do so every single month of the following year, i.e. it will be a wet and rainy year. Perhaps the best superstition of all was that if you changed your underwear between Christmas and New Year’s you would get boils.
Quiet Valley Blog is written by Kat Muller as she explores her first year on the farm.