A German Christmas in Bowling Green, 1889 by Alan Borer
Like most cities and towns across the Midwest, Bowling Green, Ohio, had a sizable German-speaking minority in the. “In 1900, 204,160 native-born Germans resided in Ohio,” according to the Ohio Historical Society, and many more citizens had whole or partial German ancestry. And because Christmas, at least American Christmas is of German immigrant origin, I thought it would be worth sharing some German Christmas memories from my boyhood hometown of Bowling Green.
That I can share these memories at all is possible because Bowling Green, in the 1880s, had enough German-speaking citizens to establish a German newspaper. Die Post, easily translated as The Post, was published for the German speaking and reading population of central Wood County. Like many newspapers in small towns, it had an off-again, on-again publishing career. Microfilm copies exist for 1889, but another incarnation of Die Post was being published by “Dammon and Holterman” in 1899. “Dammon” might refer to the G. J. Dammon, listed in the 1900 Census as a resident of Portage just south of Bowling Green. The 1899 Post appeared to cease around 1903, but the trail is just too faint to say with certainty.
But if your goal is to see what Christmas like in the German community, the December 19, 1889 issue of Die Post survives for perusal. Not surprisingly for a new immigrant community, the news offered in Die Post was tilted heavily toward news from Germany and Austria. Even on page three, where local news was offered, the news was about other German-Americans and advertisements for German-owned and operated businesses.
For example a very large advertisement for the clothier Brunning and Witte in Pemberville was headed “Weihnachtssachen,” literally “Christmas things.” Among the “things” offered were “mantel, scharpe, schuen und stiefeln (coats, sashes, shoes, and boots).” Adhering to the German stereotype of practicality and frugality, the Pemberville merchants offered useful gifts.
Other “news” listed the doings of German neighbors and neighborhoods. Philip Berger, of the Bowling Green Glass Works, was back to work after four weeks of serious illness. Herr Hoffman, Perrysburg’s “genial” grocer, was taking a trip. Friedrich Roessinger died in Pemberville at age 52. And Charles Kistner and Alice Strohl were married.
There were even a few humorous references, although sometimes the humorous items were actually advertisements in disguise. A short article labeled “Der beste Beweis (The Best Evidence”) is roughly translated thusly:
“What should I do, young lady, to prove my love for you?”
“Take my hand”
The conversation ends not with an engagement, but with, “Buy your Christmas things at Holden’s 5 & 10 Cent Store.” I’m not sure the lady would have been won with a 10 cent ring, but who am I to judge?
Another fragment labeled “Die Bauern Sagen (The Farmers Say)” also turns out to be an advertisement for “Tanners Schuladen,” which has the “einem Laden in Wood County (the best selection in Wood County.” The Bowling Green merchant knew his customer base – Germans – and where they looked for information – Die Post.
Another appeal to a rural audience was the following:
Farmer: Der beste Plaz, eine gute Wahlzeit zu bekommen, ist im “People’s Eatinghouse.” Die erste Lokal nordlich von der Postoffic. E. G. Ward
(The best place for having a good time is at the “People’s Eatinghouse.” Located the first block north of the postoffice.)
Retail selling, whether shoes or restaurants, was a cutthroat operation. Especially in the nineteenth century, when merchants had few advertising options beyond signs and newspapers, businessmen placed much hope in the holiday push for sales. Knowing your customer base was as essential as it is now. So it was no surprise that the advertisers in Die Presse marked their local news column with a bold “Froliche Weihnacht! (Merry Christmas!) We can only hope it was!