The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 2, 2012

Heritage association will spotlight 'Immigrant Christmas Traditions'

JOHNSTOWN — Christmases past will come alive when tours of a historic home are given and ethnic traditions are explored.

“Immigrant Christmas Traditions” will be presented by Johnstown Area Heritage Association at the Wagner-Ritter House & Garden, 418 Broad St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

Traditional family Christmas activities and tours will be offered at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 15 and 26.

This year, Swedish, Carpatho-Russian and German Protestant traditions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries will be spotlighted.  

The event was so popular last year, many tours sold out, so reservations are recommended.

“It’s hard to tell which times will be more popular,” said Shelley Johansson, director of marketing and communications for Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

“At this time of year, the biggest gift is time spent together. This is a special way to experience how people lived and celebrated the holiday.

“We sometimes get those from a certain ethnic group who know all about it as well as those who are curious to know more.”

Families with children ages 8 and older are encouraged to attend the tours.

The tours will begin at the Heritage Discovery Center, where there will be a brief presentation on the Christmas decorations and traditions from three ethnic groups, along with traditional Christmas sweets from each group.

Swedish decorations will include a tree decorated with traditional straw ornaments, a julbock, which is a Christmas ram, and jultomte, the Swedish version of Santa Claus.

The presentation will include an explanation of St. Lucia Day, which is celebrated on Dec. 13 with its own carols, traditions, food and costumes.

Guests will sample Swedish julglogg, a warm, spiced wine, and pepparkakor, or gingersnaps.

Carpatho-Russians from the Carpathian Mountain region follow the traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church and celebrate Christmas Jan. 7 in accordance with the Julian calendar.

Many of their traditions are very similar to Slovakian traditions because of the closeness of the two regions.

Ornaments of straw will be displayed, and the tradition of dipping garlic in honey, which symbolizes the bitter and sweet parts of life, will be shown.

Because the Wagner-Ritter family was Catholic, past tours have focused on German Catholic traditions, but this year German Protestant traditions will be shown.

Advent calendars and wreaths, Moravian stars and Christmas trees will be featured, and recipe print-outs for marzipan, a confection with a distinct almond flavor and aroma, will be offered.

Johansson said the final decision has not been made on what treats to prepare for the last two groups.

At least two costumed interpreters will then lead guests on the short walk to the Wagner-Ritter House, which will be decorated for the season as it might have appeared in the late 1800s.

“Those who can’t walk may drive there, and you never know about the weather,” Johansson said.

The interpreters will offer a presentation on the house and the families that lived there, as well as a guided tour.

“Each year, the tours give people a glimpse into Christmases long past and how various immigrant groups might have celebrated,” said Kaytlin Sumner of JAHA, who is coordinating the tours. “We choose different ethnicities and activities every year to keep the tours fresh.”

Johansson said 20 to 25 people on a tour put the group at capacity for the small house built in the 1860s by German immigrants George and Frances Wagner.

“The house is just not that large, and touring is a challenge, Johansson said.

“We see parents with older children, and we also see adults with older parents who want to do something festive.”

Tours

What: “Immigrant Holiday Traditions.”

When: 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 and 26.

Where: Wagner-Ritter House & Garden, 418 Broad St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

Tickets: $10 for JAHA members and $12 for nonmembers for adults and $5 for members and $7 for nonmembers for chidren ages 3-17.

Reservations: 539-1889.

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