Over the years many of our members have written about our most traditional, most important cultural event: Kirchweihfest. None other than Emily Fricker has captured the strong feelings, the history, and the beauty with such words. We will be sharing a series of her writings on the German-Hungarian Kirchweihs here at ughclub.us.
Last month in the Among Our Members column, I wrote about the summer coming to an end and what that meant in club life. However, to me, as a teenager in the 1950s, it also meant KIRCHWEIH.
The Sport Club would have a meeting and the boys would pick girls to be their partners or perhaps if he were clever, he’d ask the girl of his choice in advance. At that time, there were many more boys than girls, so all the girls were usually assured of a partner and would be able to participate. For those who did not have a partner, the leaders of the Sport Club would usually find one for them and all would be set. That’s how I actually came to dance in the Kirchweihs. My family had won a Strauss at the Gewerbe Club. (This was a German Hungarian Club located on 2nd Street near Lehigh Avenue.) Since my family loved the Kirchweihfests, we went to as many at the various clubs as we were able. Evidently, some adults there asked if my two cousins and I would like to participate in a Kirchweih held by the Sacred Heart Church. We said yes and everything was arranged. The young people participating were the members of the German Hungarian Sport Club. We all became friends and that was the beginning.
Most boys had decorated hats from prior fests, but if not, his partner would decorate one for him. It was rather simple as there usually was a green, white and red ribbon sewed together as one and placed around the base of the hat with a bow tied with fake flowers and loose streamers hanging about 12 inches in the back. The boys’ outfit consisted of a black pair of slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt. Almost any girl could participate as she could borrow the white pleated skirts and a black apron. The girls also wore a “peasant” blouse, which was very popular in the 50s, and every girl had a white “peasant” blouse in her wardrobe. Silk ribbons could be bought in all sizes and colors at the “5 & 10” stores and you could make your own belt of whatever color you desired. This color was then placed at the neck and the arms of the blouse. The black vest and brocade shawl, which were an important part of this outfit, were not worn at this Kirchweih, as it was often still hot in mid-September.
Of course, there always was a “Rosmarein Strauss.” As the fest was held on Sunday afternoon, the strauss was prepared on Friday or Saturday night. The entire Kirchweih Group and other members would meet at someone’s house, usually the “geld herr” or his partner. Since most of us lived in Philly row houses, we all had fairly nice basements and that is where we decorated the Strauss. The girls had already purchased the many yards of ribbon and were busily cutting them to the sizes needed. We had sometimes received more than one bush as a donation from an older member. Older meant anyone over 30 years of age. The boys were busy, (I could never figure out how they did this) getting the bushes together and placed on the back of a chair. We then began decorating it. German music played from a “record player” and we all were in a festive mood. Everyone wanted to help place ribbons on the Strauss, as all wanted it to be the most beautiful Strauss ever. This strauss decorating was a lot of work and many pieces of Rosmarein and ribbon were all over the floor. Some carefully cleaned this up. Usually the father of the house brought down a “schnapps” and he drank and toasted to the Kirchweih, with the boys over 21. The mother prepared cake and sandwiches for all and when the strauss was finished and all was cleaned up, we all had a great time eating, dancing, and singing. When all was over, the “geld herr” usually took the decorated bush home as he was to bring it to the club on Sunday.
The fest would be held on Sunday afternoon at our country club in Neshaminy Falls (now called Oakford). Since we expected a lot of people and our clubhouse was rather small, we would dress at a member’s home a few blocks away. The boys or our parents dropped us off and continued on to the clubhouse or gathered out in front already laughing, joking, talking, and preparing for a great day.
When the girls were ready, the couples paired up, the president of the club with the local German Band lined up, and we all marched through the local streets to Spruce and finally a right turn into the old driveway, which was right in front of the present-day garage that did not exist then. Marching down the driveway with girls hands on their hips holding a large colorful handkerchief and the boys with arms down all swinging in time together, the “geld herr” proudly carried the Strauss.
The people all came running as the Kirchweih Group marched to the flat, grassy area in front of the clubhouse. This is where the ceremony would take place. The Kirchweih we then called “Allgemeine” (meaning for all people) in order to differentiate between the fests which were named for a certain village.
When the “geld herr” called in a loud voice “Buwe was ha’mer Heit?” The Kirchweih had begun.
NOTE: This is how the sport club group celebrated the Kirchweihfests in the mid 1950s. Other groups may have done things a little differently as we do now. All I know is, we had a wonderful time and some members of that group, their children and their grandchildren are still members of our club and will be participating in our November Kirchweih. Many of this group still come once in a while and remember the good times. We will be celebrating our German Hungarian Traditional Kirchweihfest on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Join us and bring your children and grandchildren to see the beautiful costumes of the girls and boys and explain to them the meaning of the words of the “spruch” and the meaning of the festival as we continue a proud tradition!)
EDITOR’S NOTE: this piece was written in 2015 and was originally published in the “Monthly Progress.” It has been re-published here in 2023 with minor edits.
The featured image comes from Emily Fricker’s collection and shows the Sport Club group marching down the driveway in Oakford.