Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Erntedankfest/ Thanksgiving

The first thing you learn when you begin researching Thanksgiving traditions — in the Americas, in Germany, or elsewhere — is that most of what we "know" about the holiday is bunk.
For starters, where was the first thanksgiving celebration in North America? Most people assume it was the well-known 1621 harvest celebration (Erntedankfest) of the Pilgrims in New England. But beyond the many myths associated with that event, there are other claims to the first American thanksgiving celebration. These include Juan Ponce De Leon's landing in Florida in 1513, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's service of thanksgiving in the Texas Panhandle in 1541, as well as two claims for thanksgiving observances in Jamestown, Virginia — in 1607 and 1610. Canadians claim that Martin Frobisher's 1576 thanksgiving on Baffin Island was the first. Of course, Native Americans (Indianer), very much involved in the New England events, have their own perspective on all of this.
But the offering of thanks at harvest time is not unique to America. Such observances are known to have been held by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and many other cultures throughout history. The American celebration itself is an historically recent development, in fact connected only tenuously to any of the so-called "first" thanksgivings. The American thanksgiving of 1621 was all but forgotten until the 19th century. The 1621 event was not repeated, and what many consider the first authentic Calvinist, religious thanksgiving did not take place until 1623 in Plymouth Colony. Even then it was celebrated only occasionally in some regions for decades, and has only been a U.S. national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November since the 1940s. President Lincoln declared a national Day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863. But it was a one-time event, and future Thanksgiving observances were based on the whims of various presidents until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill creating the current holiday in 1941.
Canadians began their second-Monday-in-October Thanksgiving observance in 1957, although the official holiday actually goes back to 1879, making it a much older national observance than the U.S. holiday. Canada's Dankfest was celebrated annually on November 6th until it was moved to Monday, giving Canadians a long weekend. Canadians (Kanadier) adamently deny any connection between their Thanksgiving and the American Pilgrim tradition. They prefer to claim the English explorer Martin Frobisher and his 1576 Thanksgiving on what is now Baffin Island – which they assert was the "real" first Thanksgiving in North America, beating the Pilgrims by 45 years (but not the Florida or Texas claims).
Thanksgiving in German Europe has a long tradition, but one that is different in many ways from that in North America. First of all, the Germanic Erntedankfest ("harvest festival of thanks") is primarily a rural and a religious celebration. When it is celebrated in larger cities, it is usually part of a church service and not anything like the big traditional family holiday in North America. Although it is celebrated locally and regionally, none of the German-speaking countries observes an official national Thanksgiving holiday on a particular day, as in Canada or the U.S.

In German-speaking countries, Erntedankfest is often celebrated on the first Sunday in October, which is usually also the first Sunday following Michaelistag or Michaelmas (29 Sept.), but various locales may give thanks at different times during September and October. This puts the Germanic thanksgiving closer to Canada's Thanksgiving holiday in early October.
A typical Erntedankfest celebration at Berlin'sEvangelisches Johannesstift Berlin (the Protestant/evangelische Johannesstift Church) is an all-day affair held in late September. A typical Festbegins with a service at 10:00 am. A Thanksgiving procession is held at 2:00 pm and concludes with the presenting of the traditional "harvest crown" (Erntekrone). At 3:00 pm there's music ("von Blasmusik bis Jazz"), dancing, and food inside and outside the church. A 6:00 pm evening service is followed by a lantern and torch parade (Laternenumzug) for the kids — with fireworks! The ceremonies end around 7:00 pm. The church's Web site has photos and video of the latest celebration.
Some aspects of the New World's Thanksgiving celebration have caught on in Europe. Over the past few decades, Truthahn (turkey) has become a popular dish, widely available in German-speaking countries. The New World bird is valued for its tender, juicy meat, slowly usurping the more traditional goose (Gans) on special occasions. (And like the goose, it can be stuffed and prepared in similar fashion.) But the Germanic Erntedankfest is still not a big day of family get-togethers and feasting like it is in America.
There are some turkey substitutes, usually so-called Masthühnchen, or chickens bred to be fattened up for more meat. Der Kapaun is a castrated rooster that is fed until he's heavier than the average rooster and ready for a feast. Die Poularde is the hen equivalent, a sterlilized pullet that is also fattened up (gemästet). But this is not something done just for Erntedankfest.
While Thanksgiving in the U.S. is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, in Germany the unofficial starting date is Martinstag on November 11. (It used to be more significant as the start of 40 days of fasting before Christmas.) But things really don't get started for Weihnachten until the first Adventsonntag (Advent Sunday) around December 1. (For more about German Christmas customs, see our article entitled A German Christmas.)

Heritage Holiday Traditions of Germany

Holiday Traditions of Germany
"Froehliche Weihnachten"

According to legend, on Christmas Eve in Germany rivers turn to wine, animals speak to each other, tree blossoms bear fruit, mountains open up to reveal precious gems, and church bells can be heard ringing from the bottom of the sea. Of course, only the pure in heart can witness this Christmas magic. All others must content themselves with traditional German celebrating, of which there is plenty. As a matter of fact, there is so much celebrating that is has to begin on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day.

As in many other European countries, on the eve of Dec. 6th children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace. During the night, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all of the misdeeds of the children are written. If they have been good, he fills the shoe or boot with delicious holiday edibles. If they have not been good, their shoe is filled with twigs.

December 21st, supposedly the shortest day (longest night) of the year, is dubbed St. Thomas Day. In parts of the Sauerland, whoever wakes up late or arrives late to work on that day is issued the title "Thomas Donkey." They are given a cardboard donkey and are the subject of numerous jokes throughout the day. But this gentle abuse ends deliciously with round, iced currant buns called "Thomasplitzchen."

This is all preliminary to the excitement of Christmas Eve. Prior to the evening feast, is the presentation of the tree. The Christmas tree, as we know it, originated in Germany. It has a mysterious magic for the young because they are not allowed to see it until Christmas Eve. While the children are occupied with another room (usually by Father) Mother brings out the Christmas tree and decorates it with apples, candy, nuts, cookies, cars, trains, angels, tinsel, family treasures and candles or lights. The presents are placed under the tree. Somewhere, close to the bright display are laid brilliantly decorated plates for each family member, loaded with fruits, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits. When all is ready a bell is rung as a signal for the children to enter this Christmas fantasy room. Carols are sung, sometimes sparklers are lit, the Christmas story is read and gifts are opened.

"Dickbauch" means "fat stomach" and is a name given to the Christmas Eve because of the tradition that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So the opportunity is given to enjoy dishes such as suckling pig, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon), white sausage, macaroni salad, and many regional dishes.

Christmas Day brings with it a banquet of plump roast goose, "Christstollen" (long loaves of bread bursting with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), "Lebkuchen" (spice bars), marzipan, and "Dresden Stollen" ( a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit).

Of Special Note...

The custom of trimming and lighting a Christmas tree had its origin in pre-Christian Germany, the tree symbolizing the Garden of Eden. It was called the "Paradise Baum," or tree of Paradise. Gradually, the custom of decorating the tree with cookies, fruit and eventually candles evolved. Other countries soon adapted the custom. Charles Dickens called it "The Pretty German Toy."


Reisbrei (Rice Porridge)

½ converted rice
1 quart milk
Pinch of salt
4 tbls. sugar
1 tbl. butter
¼ cup raisins, optional
Cook rice in milk with salt and butter, very slowly until kernels are tender but have not lost their shape. If you have patience, do this in the top of a double broiler. It will take 1 ½ to 2 hours but will be worth it. The mixture should be very thick and can be stirred several times during cooking. When done, flavor with sugar, cinnamon and add raisins--if you are using them. This may be served hot or cold.

Lebkuchen (Spice Bars)

2 cups honey
5 ½ cups flour
¾ cup grated unblanched almonds
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. powdered cloves
¾ cup mixed candied fruits (orange, lemon and citron peel)
½ tsp. baking powder
Egg White Icing (see recipe below)
Heat honey until thin; do not boil. Mix in all other ingredients except icing. Turn onto floured board and knead until smooth, adding a little flour if necessary. Roll with a floured rolling pin to ½" thickness. Grease and flour a baking sheet and lay rolled dough on it. Bake in pre-heated 350 degrees oven about 20 minutes. Spread with icing while hot; cool before cutting into rectangles.

Egg White Icing

2 egg whites
1 ¼ cups confectioner's sugar, shifted
1 tbl. lemon juice
Whip egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Add sugar and lemon and juice and continue beating until thick and glossy. Spread on cake or cookies with a spatula.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Leave room for God's grace

I have recently learned that sometimes God will use disappointments, disagreements, and circumstances to humble, teach, or prepare for us the next opportunity He has prepared for us in advance to do.

This is a hard discipline to practice. During our trials or test of faith do we remember to leave room for God and His grace to use those as teachable moments?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” John 10:27.

The best coaches build opportunities for character education into their program, creating, recognizing and capitalizing on teachable moments. They think about the following questions when it comes to their players:
  • When you fail, will you repent, and try again through Christ?

  • Do you have the character necessary to persist?

  • Will you be committed to glorifying God better?

  • In life our character is constantly tested. The endless procession of teachable moments are available in God's Word. Responsible Christians who constantly use God's Word will find life lessons about persistence, teamwork, sacrifice, effort, empathy, discipline, leadership and overcoming adversity.

The term “sola Scriptura” or “the Bible alone” is a short phrase that represents the simple truth that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible. Scripture states this concept repeatedly and emphatically. The very phrase “It is written” means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay. The command to believe what is written means to believe only the pure word of God. What is at stake before the All Holy God is His incorruptible truth.

In the very last commandment in the Bible God resolutely tells us not to add to nor take away from His Word.

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”
       —Revelation 22:18-19

His Word is absolutely sufficient in itself (Psalm 119:160).

The events, actions, commandments, and truths from God are given to us in propositional form, i.e. logical, written sentences. God’s declaration in Scripture is that it and it alone, is this final authority in all matters of faith and morals.

Thus, there is only one written source from God, and there is only one basis of truth for the Lord’s people in the His Church.

Stay in God's Word!