Chocolate Bunnies, Boiled Eggs, And Other Easter Customs

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 18, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Just as European-American children will find chocolate Easter bunnies in their Easter nests this coming Sunday morning, Australian youngsters will find chocolate Easter “bilbies.” The bilby, now on the endangered species list, is not actually a rabbit or bunny, though it looks a little similar; but like the kangaroo, it’s a marsupial (baby is in a pouch on mother’s belly). In Mexico, children will enjoy chocolate bunnies, because of the European (Spanish) influence there, though some of their traditions were influenced by the Native American Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs, etc.

            No doubt because of the commercialization of Easter and other Christian holidays in the world today, there is a tendency to focus on the pagan side of Easter. The term “Easter” itself comes from “Oester,” the pagan Germanic goddess of Spring and Fertility, to whom the hare or rabbit and the snake egg are sacred. Most folks are not aware of that fact as they color and hide Easter eggs, or eat candy rabbits. Our Wendish tradition, similar to the Czech tradition, is to draw elaborate designs on boiled eggs with beeswax before dropping them in the dye. The Wends, in America, as well as in Europe, dye all the eggs red or orange-red to symbolize the blood of Christ; most Christian families in Greece do this, also, no doubt to Christianize a tradition with pagan origins.

            My maternal grandparents, who followed the Wendish tradition of dying eggs a reddish-orange, symbolizing the blood of Christ, would, before dyeing, draw crosses and print “He is risen” (in German) on the eggs. I suppose they weren’t artistic enough to draw the elaborately complicated Wendish designs on each egg.

            The Native American pagan gods of Mexico also have influenced Easter customs there, though very few folks have any idea of pre-Christian origins. For example, in Mexico City, an annual Xochimilco Festival is celebrated (originally in pagan times to honor Xochipilli, the goddess of flowers). Some towns used to choose a “goddess” of flowers as part of the celebration, similar to choosing a May Fest Queen in German towns. Out of the ancient festival of Xochimilco has grown the tradition of decorating with flowers at Easter.

            Easter, which should be called “The Resurrection of Jesus,” is considered by Christians today as the most important Festival in the Church Year; however, in actual practice, I don’t think it has come close to matching the celebratory extent of Christmas in the United States. In Mexico, it comes closer to matching, or exceeding, the significance of Christmas. My point is not to argue the significance of Easter versus Christmas, but to oppose the trend of commercialization in both cases.

            In the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, whip-cracking is an Easter custom, as strange as it may seem. In following this tradition, men and boys go around town with willow switches, decorated with colorful ribbons, trying to find women and girls to gently switch. The supposed purpose of the custom is to ensure the good health and beauty of women and girls, though, I would suspect the ladies might want to stay inside. This is obviously the remnants of a pagan festival. In Hungary, the ladies get splashed with water rather than switched. The Wends, who were the last of the Slavic tribes to be converted to Christianity, probably have more of these unusual vestiges of pre-Christian life than any of the other Slavs.

            There’s no doubt in my mind that Christians today see the rabbits and bunnies and eggs of Easter fun for our youngsters as just that, — fun, — disassociating them from the meaning they had in ancient times of paganism, and I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing the Wendish fun of celebrating Easter with my children and grandchildren. But I try, as I know other Christians do, to focus on the real reason for the season: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

The Nebraska Flooding, Like Other Natural Disasters, Is A time To Help Others

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 11, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

           The historic devastation of Hurricane Harvey began for Houston on August 17, 2017, and more or less ended on September 3, 2017, though there are still homes and businesses not rebuilt. The total cost was 125 billion dollars. The historic devastation of the flooding in Nebraska got underway on March 14, 2019, continued for many days, and the state has still not recovered from the disaster. The cost of the Nebraska flooding is estimated at 1.3 billion dollars. Because our Houston disaster was more costly, we tend to underestimate the horrific experience the folks in the “Cornhuskers State” have just undergone.

            One of the tragedies of Nebraska is that many farmers and ranchers there say they are wiped out, and though their family has been farming for generations, they fear they will have to give up the way of life they know and love. This is a chilling thought when you consider the fact that Nebraska, a state since 1867, has some of our nation’s best ranchland and farmland, and we rely on their crops to supply our needs. Normally, Nebraska has warm summers, dry winters, moderate humidity, and lots of sunshine, so this great flood is rare and bizarre, with dams and levees having been breached and bridges and thoroughfares literally washed away!

            Nebraska cities were turned into islands, towns were inundated, as rivers like the Platte and the Elkhorn, went on rampages, not only from the rain, but also from the massive snow melts that flowed into the rivers and streams. While Alaska has the most bodies of water, Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other State in the United States. It’s kind of ironic that the Oto Indian word, “Nebrathka,” means “flat water,” and most of the time its waterways and rivers are “flat” water. Just this one bizarre exception. And although Nebraska has many lighthouses, it has no oceans or gulfs. Whenever a person thinks of Nebraska, they never think of raging flood waters . . . this is a new view of the peacefully rural state, where lovers of rural life always dreamed of having a homestead.

            You see, normally, Nebraska gets about 27 inches of rain per year, which is under the national average of 30 inches, and it gets around 28 inches of snow per year, which is only slightly above the national average. Thus is it quite shocking to find that three-fourths of Nebraska’s 93 counties have had to declare an emergency, with 440 million dollars in crop losses and another 400 million in cattle losses (according to the Associated Press). It was the worst flooding Vice-President Pence had ever seen in his life. The view of the flooded areas of Nebraska from outer space was startling.

            The “good” in people came out during this catastrophe. Neighbors helped neighbors everywhere, people risking their lives to save others and help livestock survive. Farmers from other states drove truckloads of hay to places where cattle where starving. Banks and other organizations donated money to flood relief, and many restaurants and stores donated a percent of their proceeds to help victims. The Nebraska Farm Bureau launched a disaster Relief Fund. Churches took in homeless victims, providing them shelter and food. And many disaster relief agencies went into action.

            Some of those agencies were LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Family Services, and many others. Much aid is still needed. If any of you feel moved to contribute money to help the flood victims of Nebraska, you may give to LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, or any of the other relief groups. During any time of a great emergency, Americans should consider helping others.

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired teacher and pastor, is the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Go Forth With Warmth and Compassion

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 4, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It is my belief that, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (God in us), we are capable of Christ-like behavior, and God uses us in our relationships with others. That is, if we cooperate. This fact can make a big difference in our world of suffering and struggling people. Every little Christian act makes a difference in this dark old world.

            For example, how do we react to someone who is cold and officious when we need someone who is warm and compassionate? For those suffering and struggling, it could be, as the ancient proverb says, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

            Imagine for just a moment, someone coming to the church office in Wallis when I was still pastor and asking our church secretary to see the pastor, and she officiously responds, “Your name? Reason for visit? Please take a seat. I’ll notify you if/when the pastor can see you!”

            Well, I can assure you that never happened, and it won’t, because our kind and caring church secretary is warm and compassionate. Back when all of Houston was evacuated for an approaching hurricane, and the highway through Wallis was totally clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill, she took containers of ice water and handed them out to the stranded motorists.

            And I don’t think I have ever encountered a church secretary anywhere who wasn’t at least a little bit like that.

            But I’ve seen more cold-officious, rather than warm-compassionate, people in other public areas of life, — sometimes in state and county offices, federal agencies, business offices, institutions, and medical facilities.

            While I don’t like to encounter cold-officious attitudes, I can and do understand them, because when you work in an office all day, with people constantly requiring your attention, even demanding more of you than you have to give, it’s very hard not to be curt and abrupt, cold and officious. When I was serving as a college Division Chairman, and had a hundred kids lined up outside my office door seeking my approval of their schedule changes, and the phone rang, I must confess I was often cold and officious and even curt and rude in speaking to the caller on the phone.

            Exhaustion and frustration can make you cold and officious, rude and contentious. So how can we flawed and imperfect human beings improve in that category? The answer is to “go the extra mile.” That is, do more than is required even when you’re tired and feel crummy. No doubt that expression came from Matthew 5:41, when Jesus said, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

            Karin Hurt, founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, opines that giving the extra mile is good for business, any business, and not only that, but people feel good when they do it. So why doesn’t everybody everywhere do it? Hurt doesn’t answer the question, she merely poses it.

            The famous quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach, once said, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” So even though going the extra mile makes you feel good, a lot of times, a lot of us just don’t do it!

            My guess is our egos are bigger than our superegos, and our daily automatic pilots are set on “coast” rather than “drive.”

            I’m convinced that regular reading of God’s Word is the answer, because it gives us the answer. For example, the Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that Jesus once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Being warm and compassionate is giving something extra to someone. Being cold and officious is actually taking away rather than giving. You take away the warmth and kindness and love that every one of God’s creatures needs.

            We can’t go back and redo the times we were cold and officious, but we can go forth from now on with warmth and compassion.

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired teacher and pastor, is the author of It Must Be the Noodles

Warda by John Schmidt. Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 21 Oct 1909.

Warda

Werten Leser!

                Ich muß doch wieder ein paar Zeilen einsenden, somit ich nicht ganz in Vergessenheit gerathe.

                Gegenwärtig ist e shier sehr trocken, und infolge dessen macht sich der Wassermangel recht fühlber. Möchte es doch bald regen. – Sie Baumwollernte ist wohl nun bald drendet, und ist dieselbige stellenweise etwas besser und stellenweise wieder schlechter als letztes Jahr.

                Unser Kitchinim der im Sommer von Blitz beschädigt wurde und reparirt werden mutzit, ist nun wieder fertig. Die Kosten für denselben sind $225.00.

               Diese Motze schien die Wardaer Mädchen das Wanderfieber ergriffen zu haben, den sie verstogen wie die wilden Hause. Die Frls. Maria u. Lena Domaschk sowie Frl. Emma Bittner gingen nach Austin, Frl. Martha Kubitz u. Theresa Domaschk gingen nach Brenham, um dort Dienstellen anzunehmen, während Frl. Emma Rothmann nach Port Arthur ging um gleichfalls dort in Dienst zu treten, ihr Vater Herr Ernst Rothmann de geschäftshalper dort zu tun hatte, begleitete sie hin. Hoffentlich gefällt es nun allen recht gut, sonst — — —

                Doch so, genug für dismal.

                Mit Gruß an all Leser.

                                John Schmidt

Transliterated by Weldon Mersiovsky

Texas In The Spring: “Flowers Blooming And Birds On The Wing”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for March 28, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Spring officially began six days ago, on March 20; and we have had, at least in our part of Texas, some truly beautiful cool, clear, sunny Spring-like days. Here anyway. We didn’t get the large hail that battered McKinney, nor the fumes and black smoke pouring out of a Deer Park industrial facility. Hopefully, today, those places, too, are enjoying the beauty of Texas in the Spring. Today is an absolutely breathtakingly resplendent Spring day!

            While tiny wildflowers were poking their heads up between blades of grass in our very green lawn, various friends posted on Facebook breathtaking pictures of bluebonnets and red blankets already covering the hillsides in some places in Texas. One of the most spectacular posts was the one showing huge fields of lavender blooming on the hillsides in Fredericksburg.

To our delight, several patches of bluebonnets are blooming their beautiful heads off, encircling Grandpa’s old plow, on the west side of our house!

            A resident wren-couple began their annual task of nest-building on the beams of our patio roof. I am told by bird-lovers that our Texas wrens mate for life, stay on the same property for life, and each Spring build four or five nests so that the female will have a choice as to which one she will hatch her babies in. The male helps the female build the nests. These two wrens continued their nest-making even while my wife and I sat on the patio only two feet from them.

            As we were enjoying these indications of Spring, I could not refrain from wanting to sing that old song we learned in Dime Box Rural School, “Have you ever been to Texas in the Spring, where the flowers bloom and birds are on the wing.” I sang it in my heart, because I didn’t wish to annoy my wife by singing it out loud (if you’ve ever heard me sing, you understand why).

            Over the years, I have seen and heard slightly different versions of this song, but the basic content of the lyrics is always the same. The song continues with, “Where bluebonnets wave in air, and there’s friendship everywhere, While busy bees are humming and the banjos are a-strumming?” We do have bluebonnets waving in the cool breeze this morning, but there are no bees buzzing around our patio, and I haven’t heard a banjo in years. My wife did play the piano a while yesterday (which delights me more than a banjo). You’d think that whoever wrote the song would know you’re more likely to hear a guitar in Texas than a banjo.

            The wildflowers garnishing our backyard lawn look a lot like those in our yard at Easter when I was a child. Our Wendish custom was to build Easter egg nests out of the grass and wild plants from the yard, and then decorate the nests. My mother, aunts, and grandmother told my brother and me that if we adorned our nests with wild flowers, the Easter Bunny would leave chocolate rabbits and candy eggs. You can just know how vigorously and enthusiastically we lined those nests with flowers! Happy childhood, Springtime memories!       

            So far, no pink primroses or wine cups have sprung up in our yard, but we never have as many of those as we used to have in Dime Box. In the old days, our back pasture was literally covered with primroses (we called them “buttercups”). Their appearance was a sure sign of Spring in Texas, — “Where the flowers bloom.” Some years we had a profusion of bluebonnets in Lee County, and some years we didn’t. I guess it depended on the way nature distributed the seeds, because in those days, nobody PLANTED wildflower seeds; they just came up on their own. This week, bluebonnets are coming up on their own along country roads in East Bernard, — as the song says, “Where bluebonnets wave in air, and there’s friendship everywhere.”

            It seems that most folks are friendlier, happier, and livelier in the Spring than any other time of year. Here in our town, East Bernarders are ALWAYS friendly, cordially saying, “Yak se mas!” to everyone with a smile on their face, — but even more so when it’s Spring and the flowers bloom and birds are on the wing!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, IT MUST BE THE NOODLES.