KASHUBIAN CHRISTMAS in CANADA’S KASHUBIA by David Shulist
When our Kashub ancestors immigrated to Canada’s Kashubia from Kashubia, Europe ( Prussia Germany) in 1858, they brought with them many cultural traditions, some of which were unique Christmas traditions. Although the Kashub homeland was ruled, governed and controlled by the Prussian German Empire at the time of immigration, the Kashubs were free to practice their faith, language and cultural traditions. Today, after approximately 157 years, we are living proof of this. They were Roman Catholic in Europe and they are proudly Roman Catholic today here in Canada’s First Kashubian Settlements.
Both sides of my family were Kashubs. My mother’s family, the Stamplecoskies, settled in town and the family relays interesting stories of their Kashubian Christmas with their families. In talking to my mother Theresa, my uncles Clemence and Alfie, and Aunt Rose. They remember Christmas as children. They said that the most important part of Christmas was church, and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Because they lived in town, they would walk to church. A Christmas tree was always put up a few days before Christmas Day and because there was no electricity, there were no lights on the tree, but they were creative and made strings of beads, angel hair and tinsel. The family would fast all day on Christmas Eve before going to midnight mass. After mass they would have traditional Kashubian fare such as roasted chicken and boiled chicken soup with rice added as a treat. Side dishes such as Kashubian blood sausage (worta) and pickled herring (sledze) were served, and overall, it was much the same as we enjoy at the annual St. Mary’s Chicken supper with all of those trimmings. This tradition is the same in the Kashub land. As far as gifts, there was very little given. It was the time of the dirty thirties where people had very little. Gifts from a person referred to as St. Nicholas ( Swiãti Mikòłôj ) would be found under the tree and opened after they got back from church or when they got up Christmas Day. My uncles remember getting a spin top toy and animal candies which they sometimes savoured until Easter. My mother talked about getting a doll (pùpka) one Christmas and the only thing she got after that was new clothes that her mother made for that doll every year. Today, we may call this re-gifting. My aunt Rose told me she was happy with getting an orange. Hard times gave you very little, but what you got, you appreciated. Because they raised geese at home, a special goose dinner, and of course homemade pies, ginger cookies and Christmas cake were served on Christmas Day. My uncles remember that their dad, my grandpa (staruszk), would always buy a gallon of red wine and put it in the middle of the table for everyone to drink. The young boys took advantage for sure, he said. They also told me that the only language spoken at home was Kashubian. Most of my family at that time did not speak much English. The language is one of the key elements of a traditional Kashubian Christmas. Speaking the native language of their Kashubian ancestors was everything to them.
My dad’s family settled on a farm seven kilometres north of Wilno. A lot of their Christmas traditions were the same, but the conditions were a bit different. Because they were seven kilometres from church, they would have to go to church in horse driven sleighs. The traditional foods were the same, but for decorating their tree, they used things like pine cones, hanging apples, and popcorn on a thread was used as garland. My uncle Adam spoke about getting a homemade wooden pony horse and a wooden peg board. Because their father was handy with wood, he could build these things for the boys. My aunt Monika tells me that girls got a doll and every year new clothes were made for them. Because they had sheep on the farm, they had wool to make woollen socks. On a farm, they had more resources for creating gifts. One thing that was different from the Stamplecoskie’s, was that someone came to their home on Christmas Day. It was a man dressed in old clothing, with a long beard which had the texture of sheep wool and he was called “gwiôzdka / gveska” in the Kashubian language. Coal oil lamps would line the lane way to make sure that gwiôzdka would not miss their home. My aunt Monika and my uncle Adam remember that they were scared when he came to visit. They were hoping that they were good so they could get presents. They had to say a prayer (Hail Mary) and promise to be good all year or they would not get a present. They remember when they heard noises from the outside, they would quickly be down on their knees, and ready for gwiôzdka. Both my uncle and aunt always wondered why their dad was never around when gwiôzdka dropped by. What was also interesting in those days was that gwiôzdka only spoke Kashubian. My good Kashubian friend, Gienek Prëczkòwsczi from Banino, Kaszëbë, tells me that this tradition is the same in the homeland and still practised at their home. This character is known as the “Starman”.
Our Kashubian Christmas changed a bit when I was kid. When my father Martin and my mother Theresa got married, they started with a goose dinner for Christmas dinner and later changed to turkey (gùlôcz). It was Santa Claus (the Man in Red) who came to our house. Similar to grandpa (Staruszk) and grandma (Staruszka) Shulist’s home, the kids had to say a prayer before they got a present. As far as the language of Santa, he was bilingual, but mostly Kashubian with a bit of English thrown in for the younger kids. The older kids like myself, my brother Richard, and sister Betty Ann, spoke Kashubian at home. Brothers Mel, Jerome and sisters Marilyn and Connie understood some English. The young ones like Debbie, Brian, Tony and Lyle never spoke Kashubian, only English. As most of us know, Santa spoke all of the languages in the world. Santa rocks in every language.
In the 60s and 70s, we started to lose some of our Kashubian traditions, because television and newspapers were all in English. It was a time when the Kashubs started to intermarry with people of other cultures like the Wendish, Irish, Algonquin, Polish, Iroquois, French & Germans. They embraced some of their cultural traditions. I am proud to say that the Kashubs have held onto their culture in Canada for almost 157 years. Most cultures lose it after the second generation, whereas we have kept it for five generations. From the Shulist and Stamplecoskie families, Merry Christmas and remember to keep Christ in Christmas. Christ is the reason for the season. WIESOŁËCH GÒDÓW – MERRY CHRISTMAS.
KASHUBIAN EASTER in CANADA’S KASHUBIA by David Shulist
The Kashubian Easter season started with Palm Sunday (Palmòwô Niedzela) which was three days before Ash Wednesday. On the Monday and Tuesday following Palm Sunday, the Kashubs would feast, knowing that the next 40 days would be a time of fasting starting on Ash Wednesday. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday was called Zôpùstë or sometimes known in North America as Fat Tuesday. The traditional food for that day was potato pancakes (bulwe plinc). I remember as a kid, I could wait for Zôpùstë, because I loved potato pancakes. Ash Wednesday is the start of what we call “Lent” which lasts 40 days until Easter Sunday. The Sundays are not counted as fast days. On Ash Wednesday, we would all go to church and received ashes which were put on our forehead by the priest. When Good Friday came, it was the day where only fish was eaten. There was no meat eating on this very special day when Jesus died on the cross. At 3:00 pm everyone would go to mass and recognize the sacrifice of our Lord. On Holy Saturday, you would still be fasting in the morning. After the holy water was blessed and singing of the Gloria was finished, everyone could stop their fast at the 10:00am mass. On Easter Sunday, everyone would go to mass and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter Monday, there was a very special Kashubian tradition called “Diguse or Digusa”. According to the old traditions, Kashbuian boys chased girls whipping their legs with juniper twigs. This is to bring good fortune in love to the chased girls. This usually accompanied by a boys chat. “Diguse, diguse, po dwa jaja, nie chca chleba, leno jaja (Diguse, diguse, for two eggs; I don’t want bread, but eggs). Sometimes a girl would be whipped when still in her bed. Girls would give the boys painted eggs. I remember this tradition in my home, but remember this more of a fun thing to do to somebody while they were in bed. I remember my uncles and friends of dad and mom would wake them up at 6:00 in the morning with juniper twigs. It looks like in the homeland this tradition started with a love twist, and we took it to the next level of fun. Maybe the first generation did this with the love twist and later became a fun thing to do. Either way, it is a Kashubian tradition that was passed down to us from our ancestors.
KASHUBIAN FUNERALS and WAKES – PUSTA NOC – BARREN NIGHTS in CANADA’S KASHUBIA by David Shulist
The wake ritual of Pusta Noc has been alive since 1858 and lasted until around the mid 1960s where this tradition was lost. The Kashubian tradition of singing on the night before burial was something I remember as a child, where a group of singers arrived at the home of the deceased, and would sing until dawn. I remember there was always one person who led the hymns and the rest would followed reading from a hymn book called the “Spiewnik”. Some of these books were brought over from Kashubia, Europe when they immigrated and some were bought in the United States. Some of these books have been passed on from one generation to the next. At these Pusta Noc, you would always find a table covered by a white tablecloth and there would be white peppermints in the middle of the table. The Pusta Noc would always start around seven o’clock in the evening where you would have the lead singer in the middle of table and the singers to his side. The lead singer was always a man and when singing, he would have his lines to sing and the women would have their lines. Around midnight they would have snacks and later the peppermints would come out along side some plums. At around five or six in the morning the singing would stop and the body would be off to church for the funeral mass.
Today, we all go to the funeral homes where we only pay respect with a few prayers. It just happened that my grandmother (Shulist) was one of the last people who was waked at home and had a Pusta Noc on October 6th, 1965. This tradition from over a hundred years was kept alive through strong faith.
KASHUBIAN FOLKLORE – KROSCNOK by David Shulist
The character “Kroscnok” is a big part of our folklore. The word is derived from the word “Krasc” which translates to “steal” and therefore the word Kroscnok is “stealer” or “thief”. Although this has not been passed down to the youth, it is something that existed back in the mid 1800s and early 1900s here in Canada’s Kashubia. Our grandparents told us about this Kashubian fairy tale icon. My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles on both sides told me of this fictional character. He was a person who took things from you when you were not looking, mostly with stuff he felt you were not using at the moment. He would take it from you until you wanted it back. So, if you lost something, you would automatically blame it on “Krascnok”. He was blamed for it being gone. An example would be if you lost your hammer and you could not find it, it was Kroscnok’s fault and the only way to get this hammer back is to ask Kroscnok nicely by saying “Kroscnok, I know you have my hammer and when you are finished using it, can you please give it back” and surprisingly enough, the hammer is found within minutes. Of course it was exactly where you left it. I have tried it often and it always works for some reason. What is very important my grandparents said was that you are very serious about this situation and it is not to be taken lightly. Kroscnok is a thief and not a clown and this is serious business to him. If you are not using something, he has the right to take it for awhile if he needs it and in due time, if you are nice to him, he will return it.
My grandparents also told me about Kroscnok also being mischievous, and would pull of pranks. Sometimes in the horse stable things would happen to the horse’s mane. You could leave the horse in the evening with its mane nice and groomed and in the morning it could be all mangled up and the first person you would blame is Kroscnok. This Kashubian character could be compared to the Irish Leprechaun. Kroscnok is known as a good thief. Yes he steals but always gives it back. On the religious side, it would be St. Anthony that people would pray to if they lost something, either way the end result is what is important.