This year, local performers Mike Hertzog and his wife Linda, Ontelaunee Township, welcomed the New Year by performing the traditional PA Dutch Nei Yaahr Wish or New Year Wishing at 12 homes. Ted Fenstermacher from Macungie will be joining them on fiddle at five church programs.
Linda noted that her husband Mike went New Year Wishing with John P. Fritsch from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. John P. Fritsch joined a New Year band in 1931. He learned the wish from Herbert Hoppes of Hancock, Longswamp Township, who was the wisher at that time. After Hoppes’ death, John did the wishing and carried on the tradition faithfully for 46 years. After John’s death in 1998, his son Peter V. Fritsch picked up the tradition using the same, old Pennsylvania dialect wish his father had recited for so many years. After Peter’s death in December 2015, Mike Hertzog, who had been helping Peter since 2000, decided to continue the tradition.
“When Peter passed away on Dec. 16, 2015 Mike and I decided to keep the tradition going because Peter had booked five churches for the Wishing,” said Linda. “We did not cancel any wishing at the churches or the private parties people had scheduled. Peter had been asking Mike for a long time to take it over.”
This year on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 Mike and Linda were invited to 12 homes to do the New Year Wishing.
“We are still doing the blessing,” said Linda.
They performed New Year Wishing at Solomons Church in Macungie on Dec. 31. Upcoming New Year Wishing events for January 2018 will be held 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 14 at Huff’s Church in Hereford Township, 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 21 at St. Peter’s Church in Molltown, 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 28 at Longswamp UCC Church in Longswamp Township, and 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 4 at 1st Reformed Church on 3rd Street in Hamburg.
“The holiday custom of Nei Yaahr Winsching (New Year Wishing) was brought over from the Pfaltz area of Rhineland, Germany by our forebears many generations ago. Sadly, the custom died out in most parts of Pennsylvania by the 20th century. The tradition did survive with some tried and true Pennsylvania Dutch folk in isolated pockets of Berks, Lehigh, and Carbon counties,” said Linda.
She said that in the earliest days of Pennsylvania, where Pennsylvania Dutch folk had settled, it was custom between Christmas and New Year for groups of young people to gather at country crossroads and to make the rounds of nearby houses and farms.
“At each house or farm visited, the leader of the group, who was know as the winscher, would step forward after calling out to the household, and if done in proper fashion, wished a dialect blessing upon the master of the house, his wife, children, menservants, and maids. It was a solemn wish for God’s blessing for a happy, healthy, prosperous and protected New Year. The wish was declared in a singsong style of ancient church liturgy intonement,” said Linda.
After the Winscher had done his part, Linda said the group would play lively music including hymns.
“Some would beat out the tempo on make shift instruments such as drums, pans and sleigh bells. The finale of the music often came in the form of two or three youths shooting off guns,” she said. “The well wishers were then invited in to the home to warm up and often treated to cider, apples, and Christmas cookies, for each family considered the visit of the Nei Yaahr Winschers a compliment,” said Linda.
The New Year Wishing is a significant Pa Dutch tradition.
“For many Pennsylvania Dutch, then and now, the wish was a near necessity to go forth into the New Year. They felt that by having wishers coming to their home, they would have good fortune in the coming year,” she said.
The Hertzogs feel it is important to carry on this tradition.
“New Year Wishing will be forgotten if we don’t continue to carry it out and educate young and old about this tradition,” said Linda. “It gives the community a sense of unity.”
Mike is the leader of the band Mike Hertzog and The Blue Mountain Gang, playing country and bluegrass music as a soloist and a member of the band for more than 25 years. He also performs with East Side Dave and The Mountain Folk Gang and with Keith Brintzenhoff and The Toad Creek Ramblers. He gives musical lessons on Banjo, Guitar, Mandolin and Bass at Meadowood Music in Blandon, according to his bio at http://mikehertzogmusic.com/.
For more about Mike Hertzog visit http://mikehertzogmusic.com/.