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A look back at the Volga-German New Year customs

1/2/2013

By J. BASIL DANNEBOHM

By J. BASIL DANNEBOHM

Special to The Hays Daily News

Everybody has their New Year's Day customs. The Dutch believe eating donuts on Jan. 1 will bring good fortune. For a number of Americans, the main dish on New Year's Day is black-eyed peas.

A custom that so often gets overlooked is that of my Volga-German ancestors.

For those unacquainted with the tradition, at first glance, Wunsching bears a striking resemblance to All Hallows' Eve.

You arrive at the home of friend or family and give a good rap on the door. When the door was answered you greet the person with the following phrase:

"Ich wuenschen euch ein Glueckseligis Neues Jahr, Langes leben, Gesundheit, Frienden und eineikeit, Und nach dem tod, Ewige glueckseligkeit." (Translated: "I wish you a Happy New Year, long life, good health, peace and friendship, and after death, eternal life."

The group is then invited inside where the young members of the wunsching party receive some candy and maybe even a dollar bill.

The older members of the group, instead of receiving candy, typically are invited to sit down and enjoy a drink (perhaps even a home-distilled liquor of some sort) over some good conversation. As with any Volga-German affair, there are always delicious things to eat that include bierocks, cabbage rolls, fried noodles with beans, cheese pockets, kuchen or even raw hamburger with crackers.

After you enjoy a little food, drink and conversation you move on to the next house and do the same thing all over again.

The tradition carries on to this day in parts of the country densely populated with Volga-Germans.

According to some historians, the Wunsching would continue for the next five days, until the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Volga-Germans are people of immense faith. Often their traditions, like their communities, are somehow faith-centered.

The tradition of Wunsching is only one of many rich Volga-German traditions overlooked in the annals of history. Then again, the story of these resilient people is, for the most part, unknown to most. You might be interested in visiting the website of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and learn about unsere leute (our people).

But for now, ring in the new year with whatever traditions you hold and make 2013 your best year yet.

Don't focus so much on silly New Year's resolutions. Those things always sound good on Dec. 31 -- but by Jan. 31, they become pie in the sky.

Just resolve to try your best to be your best. It's really that simple. The rest will fall into place.

Happy New Year!

J. Basil Dannebohm is a freelance writer and business consultant. He writes from his office in Napa, Calif.