Der Ursprung dieser Weihnachtsfeier
in San Antonio

Sunday December 11, 2016– 5:30 P.M.
Margarite B. Parker Chapel
Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

(The Origin of this German Christmas Candlelight Celebration in San Antonio)

The German Evangelical Friedens Church on the corner of Elmira St. at North Main Avenue

The San Antonio origin of this particular German Weihnachtsfeier has its roots in the 1904 establishment of the German Evangelical Friedens Church by the German Evangelical Synod of North America. (The Synod was an American manifestation of the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union [1817] in Germany, wherein the King of Prussia united the Lutheran and Reformed churches in his realm.) Since 1904, due to two denominational mergers and a 1978 local church union, the former German Evangelical Friedens Church now forms a part of the Bethany Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ in San Antonio.

With the establishment of the Friedens Church one hundred years ago, this annual German Christmas candlelight celebration (die deutsche Weihnachtsfeier) began as a Sunday school exercise. As the German language began to be replaced by English, the church also adapted its practices to reflect the changes within its community.

Interior of the German Evangelical Friedens Church, 1914

Church records began to be kept in English, and bilingual worship services were instituted and then gradually became less frequent as time went on. Sunday school and Confirmation classes began to be conducted in English as well. However, a number of leading members of the congregation did not want to see the loss of the traditional German Weihnachtsfeier that meant so much to them and other members of the church. The vision and labor of Miss Marie Helland and Misses Emilie and Lena Heinrich reorganized the service and ensured the continuance of this annual German Christmas celebration. It is that vision and labor which has brought about the spirit and form of the present Weihnachtsfeier. No sermon is preached, and no particular doctrine is advocated. The Scripture lessons speak for themselves. Over the past two decades, the service has become increasing ecumenical in nature by including people of the Catholic faith and Protestants of various traditions who now come together to participate in and experience the majesty and beauty of a traditional German Weihnachtsfeier.

Recessional at the Weihnachtsfeier in 2001 led by Rev. John B. Culver.

From 1975 to 2000, Dr. Annelise Sellin Duncan, Professor emerita (now deceased) of the German Language Program at Trinity University, and the Rev. Mr. John B. Culver, now pastor emeritus of Bethany Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) worked together to continue and give growth to this Christmas celebration.  Dr. Duncan brought in students and former students, who themselves are teachers of German, to participate in the Weihnachtsfeier as readers. With the passing of Dr. Duncan in 2000, Mrs. Carolyn A. Gisler (German teacher at Roosevelt High School, now retired) has taken her place in working with Rev. Culver.  For over two decades now, the voices of the San Antonio Liederkranz (est. 1892) and the Beethoven Männerchor (est. 1867) have sung together and separately for the German Weihnachtsfeier.  By mutual agreement, these two excellent German men’s choirs have sung for the Weihnachtsfeier in alternate years.  Since the Centennial Celebration in 2004, however, both choirs now sing together.  Hermann Sons German Band joined the choirs from 1998 to 2004, adding another musical dimension to this German Christmas Celebration. For 2008, the Hermann Sons German Band has rejoined the Weihnachtsfeier.  In 2005 and 2006, the Beethoven Brass Quintet briefly joined the Weihnachtsfeier, to provide the pre-service music and prelude.  Since coming to the Margarite B. Parker Chapel at Trinity University in 2004, Dr. David Heller, University Organist, has played the great pipe organ of the chapel for this German Christmas Celebration.  It has been the custom of the Weihnachtsfeier to reserve the singing of “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” for the congregation during the candlelighting.

Over 600 people singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (Silent Night, Holy Night) by candle light at the Centennial Celebration of the Annual German Weihnachtsfeier in 2004

Since 1975, Rev. Culver and Dr. Duncan organized the German Weihnachtsfeier Committee, which would work with them to plan and continue Die deutsche Weihnachtsfeier. The Committee gradually expanded to include representatives from not just Bethany Congregational Church and the
German Programs at Trinity University but also from Lee and Roosevelt High Schools, the Beethoven Männerchor, the San Antonio Liederkranz, and the Sons of Hermann. In order to become more effective in fulfilling its purpose of preserving and continuing this traditional annual German Christmas Celebration in San Antonio, the German Weihnachtsfeier Committee was incorporated on November 3, 2003, as the “German Weihnachtsfeier Society of San Antonio, Inc.”, a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation. (Contributions are tax-deductible.) In this way, then, a piece of the German Heritage of South Texas can be preserved and celebrated as a Christmas gift for generations to come. “Die deutsche Weihnachtsfeier” simply tells the Christmas Story entirely in the German language through the Holy Scriptures, German Christmas poetry, prayers, choral and congregational singing, and with the band and the great organ of the Margarite B. Parker Chapel at Trinity University providing the instrumental music. No sermons are preached, and admission is free. No reservations or tickets are needed. A free-will offering will be taken to help defray the costs of the Weihnachtsfeier and to help support Church World Service and Eden Home for the Aged in New Braunfels, Texas. All are welcome to attend and enjoy the majesty and beauty of a traditional German Christmas Candlelighting Celebration.

Margarite B. Parker Chapel at Trinity University during the Centennial German Weihnachtsfeier in 2004

The 107th, Die deutsche Weihnachtsfeier will be held on Sunday, December 15, 2013, beginning at 5:30 P.M., in the Margarite B. Parker Chapel, at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Trinity University is located at 1 Trinity Plaza (715 Stadium Drive) along U.S. 281, north of downtown San Antonio and across the street from Alamo Stadium.  The Chapel is next to the tall bell tower on the west side of the upper campus, off of Oakmont Drive and Shook Avenue.  Also, there is plenty of lighted parking on Campus or on the side streets just west of the upper campus.

 

The German Weihnachtsfeier Society of San Antonio
711 Sonnet Drive
San Antonio, Texas 78216

Mrs. Carolyn Gisler, President
Mrs. Sue Weber, Vice-President
Mrs. Shirley Greff, Secretary-Treasurer
Dr. Angela Breidenstein
Rev. Stephen Nickle
Dr. Thomas Ewing
Mr. David Nelson

For more information, you may contact

weihnachtsfeiersa@gmail.com

Bethany Congregational Church Office
at (210) 342-6034

The German Weihnachtsfeier Society of San Antonio, Inc.
at (210) 534-4481 or (210) 653-5112