With Christmas approaching, I recalled one of my visits to the Amana Colonies during the month of December. Back then, I was writing books set in the Colonies, and needed to complete some research about their Christmas traditions. In an effort to gather needed research, I decided it would be helpful to visit during the holidays and attend the presentation of A Glimpse of Amana Past at the History Museum in Main Amana. And, I was correct. This proved to be an enjoyable visit that added special Christmas joy to the holidays and provided much needed fodder for my writing.
The evening began with the descendants of early settlers dressed in authentic Amana attire to present stories of Christmas celebrations from years gone by (the picture at left shows one of the ladies dressed in authentic Amana clothing). The ladies told us the history of the Christmas pyramids and early Christmas trees used in the Colonies, and prepared us for a visit from Pelznickle (the Amana German version of Santa Claus) who made a rousing appearance. When I say they prepared us for his visit, that’s no exactly true. What really happened is that after singing Christmas carols in both German and English, there was loud banging at the door of the museum followed by the ringing of harness bells. The door opened, and I don’t want to be disparaging, but Pelznickle burst into the room wearing what appeared to be a version of Great Aunt Maude’s tattered fur coat. I nudged my friend sitting next to me and said, “I guess they couldn’t afford a Santa suit.” It wasn’t until later that I learned Pelznickle means “St. Nicolas in fur” and that a rumpled fur coat is traditionally what he wore. Sure glad I didn’t make my comment to anyone else! Pelzsnickle carried a large walking stick and he did toss candy at us before he ran out of the room., but he isn’t a character I’d want to find in my home on Christmas Eve. (The picture at right is the only picture of Pelznickle I could find, but it gives you a bit of an idea.)
The people of Amana were frugal and could be considered early conservationists. In days gone by, they thought it wasteful to cut down a tree for Christmas display. Some families used a Christmas pyramid carved by Vater or Opa. The pyramid below was on display at the museum and is about two feet high. When the candles were lit, the heat would cause the blade at the top to turn. Small figures, including nativity scenes, were placed inside the pyramid.
The Amana colonists were a people of deep faith—they came to this country to escape religious persecution. They attended meeting (church) eleven times a week, so the birth of Christ has always been the centerfold of their Christmas celebrations. In addition to hand-carved or ceramic nativities, another thing you would find in their homes during the Christmas holidays was a cardboard crèche that would sit beneath the tree or near the pyramid. These crèches were always available at the general stores in each village during the holidays. If you look closely, you can see it beside the Christmas tree.
If you’d like to learn more about the early settlers in the Colonies and live anywhere near Iowa, I think you’d truly enjoy a visit to the seven villages. And, of course, you can find a list of the books I’ve written about the Colonies at my website or do a search for either of the series under Daughters of Amana or Home to Amana in Amazon. They’re available in both e-book and soft cover through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com
May you find great joy as you prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.