Polka music resounded through Hays Public Library on Saturday morning, as more than 100 people were expected to gather for a traditional Volga-German Christmas celebration.
A lunch of local favorites — including green bean dumpling soup and noodles and beans — was served in the afternoon, with the Wes Windholz polka band providing live music in the morning. The second annual event is intended to celebrate the region’s history and cultural roots, said Marissa Lamer, Kansas Room librarian.
“People will drive for polka music,” Lamer said, noting the traditions of the area’s Volga-German settlers were deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. “Especially here, Christmas revolved mostly around the Advent and the Catholic faith.”
A “traditional” Volga-German Christmas tree decorated the polka stage, a testament to the settlers’ “make do with what you have” mentality. There weren’t many pine trees in those days, so holiday trees might have been bare branches, Lamer said. The library’s tree was decorated with strings of popcorn and cranberries, dried orange slices and gingerbread heart ornaments — some bearing the German greeting of “frohe Weihnachten,” or “Merry Christmas.”
The event was free and open to the public, with lunch prepared by Augustine’s Bakery in Hays. The live music was new to this year’s event.
And the cheerful notes of polka music were enough to bring several couples to a makeshift dance floor in one corner of the library’s gallery. The first couple on the dancefloor was Craig and Lorelle Boxler, who drove from Salina just for the polka music.
“I love to dance; my husband loves to dance,” Lorelle Boxler said, noting she heard about the event from an email group promoting German cultural events in the region.
For many in the audience, the familiar strains of local polka songs are a sound from their past. Those who weren’t dancing could be spotted nodding along to the rhythm and singing along.
“I love German music,” said Charlotte Hoffman of Hays, who was recording videos on her phone of the musical performance.
Wes Windholz is her cousin.
“The music reminds me of when I used to go to the hall and dance at weddings and other events,” she said.
Janett Copeland also was visibly moved by the polka music. She now lives in Greeley, Colo., but happened to be in Hays on Saturday visiting family.
She grew up in Liebenthal in a Volga-German family and was excited to hear the band play the “Liebenthal Waltz.” Copeland, who happened to see a flyer for the event at a local hotel, purchased a CD from the band on the spot.
“I never heard that song before,” she said. “I love it.”