By Jessica McKague

A Christmas Artifact

Though the MHV collection boasts truly exquisite pieces of porcelain, silver and glassware, today it is a humble ceramic soup plate that has the sweetest story to tell.

Peter Bergen’s mother worked in the kitchens of Bethania Mental Hospital in Russia, scouring cutlery and washing dishes. For her wedding, Bethania gave the new couple a set of soup spoons and two soup plates. According to the makers mark on the bottom, these soup plates were made by ВСЕУКРТРЕСТ “Budy Faience” a factory in Russia that produced household ceramics from 1894 to 1941.

The plates were never used for meals but for a special Christmas tradition. Peter Bergen and his sister would each put one bowl out on the kitchen table on Christmas Eve, according to Mennonite custom (eene Schiew oppschtalle) for Santa to fill. To the children’s delight on Christmas morning the bowls would be overflowing with an assortment of treats such as chocolate-coated marshmallow cookies, sugar-coated half-moon fruit candies, so-called ice-cream cookies (2 slices of ice-cream cone with something sweet in-between), nuts, chocolates, candies, several Rackewischaiki (hard Russian candy with a jam centre), and an orange or an apple.

“Hanging up stockings was unknown among Mennonites. Who would want to hang up our well-worn and darned old socks anyway? Our Mennonite Santa would have been puzzled and wouldn’t have known what to do with them.” - Peter Bergen

Christmas morning was not the only opportunity for Mennonite children to indulge their sweet tooth. Sunday school classes would often sing carols or recite biblical passages for a Christmas program. Afterwards, each child would receive a Tütche literally “small paper bag” filled with chocolate, nuts, and an orange.

On Christmas day children often recited Christmas Wishes to their parents and grandparents, and enjoyed a big family Christmas dinner. Children might also receive a Tütche after reciting Weihnachtswunsch and Neujahrswunsch (Christmas and New Year’s poems) that the children would copy out, memorize and recite to their parents. A favourite Mennonite treat, especially at Christmas time, is päpanät or “Peppernuts” - little spiced cookies much like ginger snaps. Mennonites also delighted in raisin bread and buttery buns or Zwiebach - “two-bake buns”.

Whether a Mennonite grew up with soup bowls, hard-earned Tütche, or perhaps a spruce tree and stockings, Christmas was a warm celebration of faith and fellowship expressed through togetherness, song, and Christmas foods.

Christmas Greetings

The staff and the Board of Directors of MHV wish all our readers and supporters a happy and healthy Christmas with rich and celebratory times with family and friends. We appreciate the support of our constituency.

Calendar of Events

  • December 25 – January 11, MHV closed for the holidays
  • February 1 – Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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