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German Christmas Traditions at Hager House

German Christmas Traditions at Hager House
by Jennifer Leese
j.leese@picketnews.com

Starting December 2 and lasting through December 28 (excluding Mondays and Christmas Day) the Jonathan Hager House and Museum will be hosting its annual "German Christmas" tour
According to Historic Sites Facilitator, John Bryan, "Germany, probably more than any other country, has the longest history and widest variety of Christmas traditions."
"Because of its many varied religious and political beliefs, some Christmas customs were celebrated and popular in one region of Germany, but completely unknown in another. It is appropriate that the Hager House puts on a "German Christmas" display since Jonathan Hager, founder of Hagerstown, was a native of Germany. Hager himself more than likely participated in or heard of many of the customs and superstitions featured in this tour," said Bryan. "This presentation holds a particular significance to Hagerstown because many of our towns' first settlers were of German descent so this special themed tour gives the visitor a peak into what a traditional German Christmas in the 18th century frontier settlement of Elizabethtowne may have looked like."
Visitors will hear stories that range from how the Christmas Tree and the Yule Log got their start to tales involving the Wise Men and a myriad of holiday gift givers to the significance of a young woman throwing her shoes over her shoulder on St. Stephens Day to the touching custom of the legend of St. Barbara and the beautiful display of the Moravian Putz.
"The German Settlers and the customs that they brought with them here to America have had a profound effect on how we celebrate Christmas in America today. A visitor to this special themed tour will find each room decorated in the traditional German holiday style and will learn about some of the customs and strange Christmastime superstitions that people in Germany celebrated going back over the last 2000 years. It is really a unique opportunity for visitors of all ages to learn why we celebrate the way we do and where some of our popular symbols and customs come from. For instance the Christmas tree and the modern view of Santa Claus all have the roots in Germany," Bryan said. "Germany has several legends involving those who bring gifts at Christmas. These include St. Nicholas, who arrived on December 6, and the Christkindel, or Christ Child, who appears on Christmas Eve."
Germany has so many different gift-givers (Santas) and superstitions because "that up until as late as the latter 19th century the united Germany that we know today was unheard of. Until that time Germany was a land of up to as many as 300 little principalities and kingdoms," informed Bryan. "All these political divisions led to a wide variety of beliefs as well as the mountains geography that separates and isolates areas of the country and also religious differences all caused Christmas customs to develop quite differently in Germany's many various regions."
In addition to highlighting the many holiday customs, the Hager House will be decorated for the holiday season in traditional German fashion - apples, nuts, gingerbread, and evergreen branches. "These decorations differ from today in that they are all available naturally and were common in the German woods and they are very simplistic. It gives the viewer a perspective of what a Christmas celebration can be without all of the modern frills," Bryan said.
"I hope that the visitor will not only leave with a better historical understanding of why we celebrate Christmas the way we do here in the United States and how our early German settlers contributed, but maybe use this tour to escape for awhile some of the modern hustle of the season and perhaps incorporate some of these older customs and superstitions into their own personal family celebrations and keep them alive for generations to come," said Bryan.
Built in 1739, the Hager House is the original home of Jonathan Hager, who laid out the city bearing his name in 1762.
The tour and customs discussed are basically the same although there may be a few additional visual things added and this year visitors will have a chance to purchase a Christmas ornament of the Hager House in the museum gift shop.
Hours for the tour are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm, and Sundays, 2 to 5pm. Admission for adults is $3.00, senior citizens are $2.00, children 6 to 12 are $1.00, and children under 6 are admitted free of charge. Be sure to bring the whole family and experience how many of our early ancestors celebrated Christmas! The Hager House is located in Hagerstown City Park opposite the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. For more information about German Christmas and all Jonathan Hager House and Museum programs and events call 301-739-8393, or email: hagerhouse@hagerstownmd.org.

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