• Karen Heckman Stork

Germans from Russia Christmas

Quote of the Day: Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. — Dr. Seuss

From my book, Screw the Eggshells, published in 2017:

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were Germans from Russia. All had immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s. The Kolb family (maternal grandfather) came from Laub, Russia around 1907. They brought all their old world Christmas traditions with them to their new home in America.

We always spent Christmas Eve at the Kolb’s home in the North Bottoms neighborhood of Lincoln with my mom’s six brothers and sisters and their families. It was quite a crowd. The North Bottoms was a neighborhood just north of the University of Nebraska city campus. Most Germans from Russia lived either in this neighborhood or in the South Bottoms area which was south of O Street.

For our Christmas celebration Grandpa always served homemade wine as well as homemade sausage. I remember seeing the sleeves of sausage hanging from the rafters curing in his attic. My favorite was liver sausage. Grandpa’s homemade variety was the only kind I would eat. Grandma was also a wonderful cook, and I especially remember her runzas (before they became so well-known), kuga (a kind of crumbly coffee cake) and chicken noodle soup which always included what we called “butter balls”.

My grandparents never had a full-size Christmas tree. They had retained their frugal ways since living through the Great Depression. This frugality was on display when all the cousins would open our Christmas presents and discover such useful gifts as handkerchiefs, socks or school supplies. Sometimes we would even receive a quarter.

After dinner and presents, my grandparents and some of their children sang Christmas carols from a German song book. The words were all German and the singing was a cappella. I can still remember some of the German words to “Silent Night” Holy Night” — “stille nacht, heilige nacht”. I still love singing hymns and also harmonizing along with Willie Nelson on the radio or CD.

Later on Christmas Eve, some of Mom’s brothers and sisters and their families would gather at our house. Of course, my brother and I had to go to bed to await the arrival of Santa Claus. The cousins were put to bed in our parent’s room. Sometimes when we couldn’t sleep, my brother Tom and I would creep down the stairs and look through the spindles to watch all the grown ups drinking beer and playing cards. But we would soon grow tired and find our way back to bed and fall asleep while “visions of sugar plums danced in our heads”.

Action of the Week: Reconnect with a family member or old friend and spend time helping those less fortunate.

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