More Than Decoration: Barn Stars Sustain the Spirit of Folk Tradition

The rungs of the extension ladder echoed across the hollow as the barn star painters prepared to ascend the facade of the barn to begin their third and final day of work. Carefully selecting their brushes and colors, the painters took their places 20 feet above the barnyard where they worked their magic. With rapid and calculated movements, they began applying the paint to the rough contours of...
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Delivery, Ritual and Discretion: Discovering the Past in an Early Pennsylvania Midwife’s Register

Hoofbeats on the dirt path announced the arrival of the midwife, who traveled on horseback from her home at Lower Salford in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County to attend a birth at the residence of the Haag family in nearby Franconia Township on August 1, 1770. Johannes Haag was the first delivery attended by Rosina (Krauss) Heydrich (1737–1828) when she began her Hebamme Büchlein, or midwife’s...
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The Easter Egg: A Flourishing Tradition in Pennsylvania

The hen cackled in the early morning light as the door of the chicken coup opened and the boy walked in with his basket. He had risen before dawn to help with the farmwork as usual. But on this most suspicious of days, Karfreidaag, or Good Friday, gathering the eggs was no mere ordinary task. As on all other mornings, the boy deftly reached under the clucking hens, soothing the birds with a few...
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Kutztown Folk Festival: America’s Oldest Folklife Celebration

The Kutztown Folk Festival, originally called the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival, is a milestone among American community celebrations. Observing 70 years in 2019, it is the first and longest-running folklife festival in the history of the United States. Although many other popular celebrations preceded the Kutztown festival, it has had a national impact as the first festival founded and...
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Der Belsnickel: Nicholas in Furs or Hairy Devil?

“There was a rush of noise outside that broke the silence of the winter night — a clanking of chains and a scratching at the kitchen window. Mother encouraged my brother and me to leave the dinner table to see who was outside. At the window, a ghastly masked face greeted us with an unearthly cackle. Clad in a rumpled fur overcoat, the figure carried an old gunnysack in one hand and a bundle of...
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Powwowing: Ritual Healing in Pennsylvania Dutch Country

It was just after dark when the powwow doctor arrived at the elderly woman’s home in Lebanon County. The woman had been suffering from swelling in her legs that made walking difficult. Regular medical treatment had proven to be unsuccessful, so after enduring several months of painful discomfort, she called a powwower on the advice of a friend. Tonight would be the third successive...
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Pennsylvania Dutch by Mark L. Louden

Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language by Mark L. Louden Johns Hopkins University Press, 504 pp., cloth $59.95 The controversy over the origins, identity and persistence of one of America’s most misunderstood minority languages has been positively settled by Louden’s unparalleled presentation of Pennsylvania Dutch, for which even the proper name has been the subject of...
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