A Look Back in History: Religiously-oriented PA Dutch people renew, rejoice at Christmastime

Christmas Putz examples from various Moravian churches, notably minus the contemporary addition of trains.
Christmas Putz examples from various Moravian churches, notably minus the contemporary addition of trains. Submitted photo
Each Putz of our beloved countryside can be found, right alongside, a cherished Biblical Nativity (Crèche) scene with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Each Putz of our beloved countryside can be found, right alongside, a cherished Biblical Nativity (Crèche) scene with the birth of Jesus Christ. Submitted photo

During Colonial times, our forefathers who were thankful for having survived the voyage to America were a humble lot, never taking things for granted, but always had faith in God and followed his humanitarian principles. Sharing their wisdom and even food with their farm animals in the fertile territory of Pennsylvania, Rhinelanders, who sometimes built homes that accommodated farm animals, looked after these beasts almost as equals. Among the religiously-oriented PA Dutch people who looked forward to Christmas and the meaning of the Christ child were humble rural farmers who knew that their existence was dependent on Mother Nature and a merciful God to survive in the rugged frontier world.

Humility was a hard lesson learned in America, living in a temperate climatic zone in which winter and summer could victimize human existence beyond one’s ability to survive, let alone creatures on this earth in which we both share in with a benevolent God. Old-time farmers who set out hay in the barnyard the night before Christmas had the humanitarian spirit of the Universal Lord who preached a world civilization of Peace on earth toward good will to man and beast; a sacred feeling as one feeds his or her animals in God’s kingdom, pondering peace on earth good will toward man. To a PA Dutch ethnic person, household pets and domestic animals take on significance at Christmas time as they share their humanitarian holiday spirit with both man and beast.

Christian Shepherds of a kind, who have not lost the meaning of the Holy Nativity, even to the extent of sharing food and shelter with Mother Nature’s creatures. Any PA Dutch person whose responsibility it was to feed the farm animals on Christmas eve with the moon lit over the barnyard, knows of the communion between their Christian faith and its recollection of the Nativity scene where the Christ child is laid in the humble straw manger in Bethlehem. Furthermore, courageous men and women left the Old World for the New World following Christopher Columbus, they did so with optimism and heartfelt thanks to their Creator, believing they could make their new lives better than in Old World Culture.

Taking a sea voyage under a vast starlit Heaven proved to be a universe greater than they realized, and among the immigrants that cultivated Pennsylvania from the Rhine Valley of Europe were farmers so thankful to God, they would share their blessings with livestock. Primitive farmers in a new country, they started a tradition on Christmas Eve, when this religious group celebrated Christ’s birth that some humble PA Dutch farmers placed hay from their brimming barns out in the barnyard. The next day after the Christmas dew had fallen and absorbed on this feed, it was fed to the farmer’s livestock, a sort of remembrance of man and beast’s humility to their Creator.

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Much the same way humans in the New World looked forward to a New World Civilization without wars and injustices against religions or race and economic status. A legacy William Penn had offered the Rhineland farmers when he invited them to come to Pennsylvania in the 17th Century. Almost every American whose family roots predate the American Revolution have fond memories of yuletide folkways, shared with the family. One such example in modern times is the shared warmth and joy of a real life “Christmas Putz,” we call the American homeland. Our ancestors, so very proud of pioneering the United States since 1776, and much earlier, developed this Christmas folkway of putting a miniature landscape resemblance of our native countryside underneath the Christmas tree to celebrate religious freedom.