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« The Wends in Texas | Home | Wends Draw Strength F… »

Wendish Christmas

Friday 09 October 2015 at 11:03 pm.

This article by Victor Vogel was printed in an unknown newspaper date unknown. The article by Sigman Byrd, Advance Man in Wendenland, for the Houston Chronicle on 9 Sep 1960 is remarkably similar. Vogel's article states "122 years ago" which would have made the date of publication 1976.


Knecht Ruprecht, the anti-Santa Claus, is supposed to be skulking from house to house this time of year in the southern part of Lee County, where Rabb's Creek ripples down from the Yegua Knobs through sandy woodlands of tall cedars and gnarled postoaks.

Knecht Ruprecht may sound German, but he's not. He's Wendish.

According to Wendish folklore, Ruprecht is St. Nicholas' hired hand. But no jolly elf is he. He's a mean, ornery rascal who wears a red suit trimmed in white but also wears an ugly halloween-like mask and carries a whip, a stick and a black bag.

The hired hand's Advent chore is to scare the devil out of boys and girls, whip and beat those who need punishment, and put the worst boys into his black bag and carry them clean away.

What he's really supposed to do is frighten the kids into seasonal good behavior, thus preparing the way for jolly old St. Nick with his sleigh full of toys and goodies.

Several years ago I drove back through the miles and years to old Wendenland during Advent, not really looking for Knecht Ruprecht, wondering if I'd even find a Wend.

Six miles south of Giddings on Farm Road 446 a cutoff was marked SERBIN. Following the cutoff westward, I discovered Milton Moerby's store and, a mile farther south, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, with its parish school, a parsonage and some other buildings. Between church and store were scattered farmhouses with their windmills and barns.

This pleasant little community was the heart of Wendenland.

That was the name chosen 122 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 were destined for the same fate that is befalling the 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 being Germanized.

Rev. Arthur Arndt, who was the pastor at St. Paul's the last time I visited Wendenland, was not only the fourth pastor in more than 100 years; he also was the first pastor who was not a Wend. He told me there hadn't been a Wendish-language service at St. Paul's since 1920. Rev. Arthur E. Graf is the present pastor.

But about Knecht Ruprecht ...

"When I first came here in the fall of 1948," Pastor Arndt told me, "the Ruprecht custom was universal. But I've discouraged it. I hope it's a thing of the past."

"But why?" I asked. "It sounds like a harmless game for the children."

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

Well, I didn't know enough about the custom to debate the point. But I pursued Knecht Ruprecht to Moerby's store, which then was the secular center of Serbin.

The store was filled with farm folks doing their marketing. A sign over the door 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. Flour per 25-pound sack $1.69."

The bar was well patronized. Deer horns adorned the walls. A couple of domino games were going on.

"Do I remember old Knecht Ruprecht!" exclaimed Milton Moerby, echoing my question. "Listen! Once when I was a little kid, about this time of 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 boy, a young man, dressed up in a Santa Claus suit and wearing an ugly mask, carrying a stick, a whip and a bag. But I thought he was a real monster.

"I remember once he tried to put me in his bag. I lost a year's growth, but he couldn't put me in that poke!"

"But Ruprecht made us kids behave," said August Kessel, who as a child studied the Wendish language at St. Paul's and who still had a Wendish catechism and some other Wendish books. "The Ruprecht game didn't really hurt us, because soon came Christmas with the Christkindchen and blessed Nicholas."

Martin Mirtschin said: "I can remember seeing as many as 15 Knetht Ruprechts at our house at one time. I was scared out of my wits."

Milton said if I could come back to his store on a certain day I could see a real live German-Wendish Knecht Ruprecht with his whip, stick and black bag. But I said I would settle for a real live full­blooded Wend.

They gave me a list of names: Synatschk, Mitschke, Proske.

But I never found a real, live one-hundred-percent Wend. Apparently the Wends decided if they couldn't lick the Deutschlanders and the Bohemians they might as well jine 'em.

I remember St. Paul's Church, a beautiful little stone building with a keystone over the entrance inscribed "Soli Deo Gloria" and a Texas star topping the weathervane on the steeple.

And I remember Pastor Arndt saying: "The Wends are a strange, mysterious people, devout, loyal and industrious. Nobody really knows where they came from. Some authorities say Martin Luther's wife was a Wend."

I thought about Martin Luther, walking past the bakeries of Wittenburg, changing all the bread in the windows into the body of Christ.

In Giddings J. A. Proske once published a Wendish language newspaper, the only one in the U.S. The last I heard, there was still a font of the curious Gothic Wendish type at a shop in Giddings.

But who could set the type? Who could read it? Who remembers Johann Kilian's Wendenland below the Yegua Knobs?

Maybe Knecht Ruprecht does.

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