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« Standing in the Shado… | Home | Old Stone Church Wend… »

Advance Man in Wendenland

Wednesday 27 May 2015 at 06:42 am.

This article by Sigman Byrd first appeared in The Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas on 9 Dec 1960.

GIDDINGS - This is the time of year when Knecht Ruprecht, good St. Nicholas' terrifying hired man, is supposed to be going from house to house in old Wendenland, frightening all the little children into angelic behavior for the holy days ahead. But "the Ruprecht game" seems to have lost popularity in these parts - if only in recent years.

Perhaps should explain that Wendenland is the old name for the beautiful and orderly countryside seven miles southwest of Giddings, seat of Lee County, where Rabb's Creek ripples down from the high Yegua Knobbs through sandy woodlands of tall cedar and gnarled post oaks.

* * *

The name was chosen 106 years ago by Rev. Johann Kilian, the Moses of the Texas Wends, who led his 600 people, emigrants from Prussia and Saxony, into this promised land in 1854.

Ironically, the Texas Wends are destined for the same fate that is befalling the far more numerous European Wends. A Slavic people, cut off geographically from other Slavs and surrounded by Germans, both groups are losing their ethnic identity and are becoming Germanized. Today the heart of our former Wendish colony is the village of Serbin, which is dominated by St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School. And the pastor, Rev. Arthur Arndt, who is only the fourth pastor in 106 years, is also the first pastor not a Wend. He conducts Sunday services in both English and German; but there has been no Wendish language service at St. Paul's since 1920.

* * *

But, about Knecht Ruprecht: who appears to be more German then Wendish: ''When I first came here in the fall of 1946," Pastor Arndt told me, "the Ruprecht custom was pretty universal." But I've discouraged it, and I hope it's a thing of the past around here."

"But why?" I asked. ''It sounds like a charming and harmless party game."

"It's not Christian!" declared the pastor. "Frightening little children!"

* * *

Well, I didn't know enough about the custom to dispute the point. So, following Pastor Arndt's suggestion, I drove down the slope through the cedars to Milton Moerby's [sic] store.

As St. Paul's is the spiritual center of Serbin, Milton's store is the secular center of village life. The store was filled with country folks doing their marketing. A sign over the entrance to the bar said: Crop gathering time is here. Let's not wait until the end of the year to pay your grocery bills. We have bills to pay too. Fluffbake flour, 25-pounds. $1.69."

* * *

The bar was well patronized too. And a couple of hot domino games were going on.

"Do I remember old Knecht Ruprecht!" exclaimed Milton, echoing my question. "Listen - once, when I was a little kid, about this time of the year, there would be a great loud thumping at the door! It would be Old Man Ruprecht screaming and shouting to be let in. I tell you, I was scared half to death.

"But my folks would let him in. Of course it would be a neighbor young man, dressed up in a Santa Claus suit, wearing an ugly mask, carrying a stick, a whip and an empty black bag. But I didn't know who it was.''

* * *

"What was the bag for?" I asked.

"I'll tell you what it was for," replied Martin Miertschin. "It was to put kids in. He tried to put me in one time. I lost a year's growth, but he didn't get me in that bag."

"But Ruprecht made us kids behave," put in August Kessel, who as a child studied the Wendish language at St. Paul's School and still has a Wendish catechism and other Wendish language books. ''It didn't really hurt us, because soon came Christmas with the Christkindchen and Nicholas."

* * *

"But sometimes at our house," said Milton, "there would be a dozen Knecht Ruprechts at once."

"I can remember seeing as many as 15 in our house at me time," declared Martin.

"Once we had 20 Ruprechts at our house," said August, the champion.

Milton said if I would come back on the appointed day, I could see a real live German ­Wendish Saint Nick in his store. But I don't know. I'm getting pretty well fed up with Santa Claus. To tell the truth, I'd rather see Knecht Ruprecht, Santa's terrifying monster of a hired hand, with his whip, stick, and big black bag. Wouldn't you?

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