There was this old photo from the photographs handed down from my paternal grandparents that no one could explain. Who were these people? What did they represent? Were they Morris dancers? Wendish Morris dancers? Was my grandfather one of them?
There is a brown beer bottle in the picture -- they dance for beer -- just like Morris dancers, right?
Well, come to find out, they are Rumpliche (a/k/a Knect Ruprecht, a/k/a Old Man Ruprecht) -- a fearsome character whose purpose was to scare the devil out of children, whipping those who needed punishment and carrying away bad boys and girls in potato sacks. They came screaming, shouting, pounding on the doors, wearing scary masks, carrying sticks, whips, and potato sacks. All this just before Christmas! Can you imagine -- Christmas? They went from house to house asking children if they had been good, spanking their hands if they were mischievous, and sometimes asking them to recite a prayer and then rewarding them with candy, fruit, and nuts. They sang German Christmas carols and pantomimed to entertain their hosts.
--Christmas in Texas, by Elizabeth Silverthorne
Now I know why I was drawn to Morris dancing -- in some mystical sort of way.
WINFREY BELLS MORRIS DANCERS -- Left to Right: Ray Quigley (back); Martha Quigley, Patti Plemmons, Peter Lamborghini,Carl Dreher, Me (Linda Mrosko), and Barbara Thompson
At least, for the moment, if I die and my pictures are passed on to some distant relative, they will understand what these pictures are all about and not wonder year after year -- Who are these people? What are they doing?
Perhaps the least known of all the Texas pioneers, they fled Lusatia to escape political and religious oppression by the Germans. The Texas Wendish Heritage Society is attempting to preserve the Wendish culture at the only Wendish museum in the United States which is located in Serbin, Texas (near Austin).
In 1854, Johann Kilian lead 500 followers (including my great-great grandparents) into the port of Galveston Island. A yellow fever epidemic forced the flock to move inland where they established the village of Serbin. They built the first Wendish church, the Saint Paul Lutheran Church, an exact replica of the church they worshiped in back home in Lusatia. Three sermons were preached: One in Wendish, one in German, and one in English. Yes, the Wends had their own distinct language -- not German, not Czechoslovakian. Today, very, very few decendants know the old language. (I sure don't).