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Catholic Activity: Lenten Customs of the Russian Germans


Here are a few Lenten customs that were practiced among the Russian Germans of Kansas. Included are a few of their traditional Mardi Gras foods, their use of blessed palms as protection from storms and fire on their farms, and the custom of substituting street clappers for the Angelus bells during the Sacred Triduum.


On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the people celebrated Fastnacht, similar to Mardi Gras, by card playing, dancing, and recreations of a similar nature. A sweet bread, Fastnacht Kuchen, was served to guests who called to visit the homes during the evening. Graebbel, a kind of fried pastry, made of flour and eggs, rolled thin and cut in narrow strips and fried in deep lard, was likewise served. During Lent the people refrain, today as in the past, from recreation and spend more time attending church services. It is not at all unusual to see practically the entire congregation attending daily Mass.

It has always been the custom on Palm Sunday to place pieces of blessed palm in the barns as a protection against fire and to bury small pieces in the fields as protection from lightening and severe storms.

During Holy Week, since no church bells are rung from Mass on Thursday until Mass on the following Saturday, a unique method of announcing services was used in the colonies. The altar boys, Klepperer, went through the villages several times a day, singing and striking clappers to announce to the people the Angelus or the hour for services. After Mass on Holy Saturday the Klepperer went from house to house collecting eggs as pay for their services. They walked through the streets chanting,

Klepper, Klepper, Eier 'raus,
Wenn ihr mir kein'
Eier gibt, so schlag'
Ich euch ein Loch ins Haus.

(Clapper, Clapper,
Out with the eggs,
If you don't give me any,
I will knock a hole in your house.)

Activity Source: Your Home, A Church in Miniature by Compiled by The Family Life Bureau in the early 1950s, The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, Minnesota, 1994

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