German Christmas at the Jonathan Hager House

December 19, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

While Jonathan Hager House curator John Nelson shows off the home's Yuletide splendor on a sunny Sunday afternoon, historical interpreter John Bryan is upstairs divulging the secret of the Putz.

The Moravian Putz, to be precise.

The expansive nativity seen, shaped in an 'L' and placed in a back bedroom of the City Park museum and home originally occupied by Hagerstown founding father Jonathan Hager, is a highlight of the ongoing German Christmas display of holiday traditions born in the European country.

(According to, Web site for the Moravian Church in America, the word putz comes from the German word putzen, meaning to decorate or clean. The center of any putz is the manger.)


You see, within the nativity model is an object - a hidden object - for viewers to find, like a three-dimensional version of Where's Waldo that grows larger each year.

But this game of hide-and-seek holds a deeper meaning, and Bryan enjoys this aspect of the eighth annual holiday display.

"They wanted you to focus on the birth of Christ. They wanted you to be more enlightened about it," Bryan says.

So, the secret object is hidden somewhere within the scene with the expectation that by hunting for it viewers will pay more attention to the nativity itself.

"People hardly ever find it," Bryan says of the object. "But that's the whole point, to look at it real close."

Though Bryan's favorite portion of the German Christmas, which continues through Sunday, Jan. 5, it is far from the only mystery in the home, built in 1739.

Sure, some may look at the spare decorations and prevalence of holly and greenery and wonder what the big deal is.

But these German traditions are at the root of some of our most treasured holiday observances.

The greenery was viewed as magical, representative of everlasting life because it thrived in winter. Similarly, holly's red berries represented the blood of Christ.

Use of the Christmas tree can be traced back to Germany, and St. Nicholas and the Christkindel (Christ Child) also have roots in Germanic stories and tradition.

Bryan looks around the home and sees an educational opportunity, particularly for those of German ancestors who may not be aware of the influence their heritage has on the holiday.

"It brings it home to people with a German background, but furthermore focuses on traditions of Christmas rather than the commercialism we see today," he says. "You can kind of see how it all builds. You can see the foundation of our traditions in the German Christmas."

If you go:

German Christmas, a celebration of German holiday traditions at The Jonathan Hager House

Through Sunday, Jan. 5

Jonathan Hager House

110 Key St.

City Park


House hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for ages 6 to 12 and free for ages 5 and younger.

For information, call 301-739-8393.

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