A Kashubian Christmas to Remember
by Peter von Pazatka Lipinsky
Peter, a member of the Pommerscher Verein, lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He says, “Part of this story is fiction, but most of the story is the way we celebrated Christmas in our house. It was the time just shortly before the end of WW II in 1945 in Koeslin, Pommern ( now Koszalin ).” This was first printed in the Winter, 2000, Kashubian Newsletter.
The first snowstorm of the season was covering our city with a fluffy white blanket. I was sitting by the window, watching the large snowflakes dance to the whispering sound of the wind. It was slowly getting dark and it started to snow more heavily now. On a few houses along the street, Christmas lights were being turned on, but the road itself was barely visible. Only the beam of an occasional passing car would gingerly feel its way along the street in the darkness. It was Christmas Eve, and my thoughts started to drift back a long time ago, to a little village in Pomeranian, the homeland of the Kashubs.
It was Christmas Eve 19-hundred-and-something and this was a big day for us children. Would not Santa Claus come tonight and bring us some candies and maybe a new toy, perhaps even two? Papa had gone the day before to the near-by forest and got a nice straight Christmas tree. Now Mama was busily decorating the tree with a few strands of tinsel, which had survived the previous Christmas. A few colored stars, tree and bells cut from cardboard as well as a few sugar tree ornaments rounded out the tree decorations. We knew that after Christmas, we could plunder the Christmas tree and the little sugar delicacies would be ours to enjoy. (Oh, why did we have to wait so long?) A few wax candles were sitting on different tree branches and these candles would only be lit for a very short time when we were singing “Silent Night – Holy Night”. Candles were hard to come by and these candles had to do us for another couple Christmases.
While Mama was busy with the tree, Grandmother was preparing Christmas dinner, which was usually served around 7:00 p.m. The Christmas goose was slowly being cooked to perfection, and the roasted potatoes with onions, dumplings, sliced carrots, cabbage, mashed turnips, a few parsnips were also slowly cooking away, to be ready for the Christmas feast.
Since it was at least a couple of hours until dinner, I asked my Grandmother to tell me one or two of the old fairy tales she knew and could tell like nobody else. So Grandmother said, “I will tell you a story about some very special tiny people, called the ‘Karzelkis’. But … Grandmother said, “Only a real Kashub can hear and see the Karzelkis, who live under the floor boards in Kashubian homes. The Karzelkis are also known as Dremnis and in some other parts of Kashubia as the Krosniatas. The older Karzelkis have a long white bead and usually wear a blue or green coat with golden embroidery and black boots. The young girl Karzelkis are called ‘Krosnicys’.
"When these little people celebrate a wedding or a birthday or even Christmas, they make so much of a ruckus that often you can hear them laughing and singing old Kashubian songs in the middle of the night, and carrying on until the wee hours of the morning. The Karzelkis like it when you put out a little fresh milk for them in a small dish. However, if you put the milk in half a walnut shell, then the Karzelkis know for sure that the milk is for them.”
Grandmother was going to tell us more stories, but it was time for the long awaited Christmas dinner. Mother had put out her very best and only tablecloth and the dinner table looked just perfect. The Christmas dinner was again a masterpiece of Grandmother’s cooking talent. For dessert, we had a delicious bread pudding and a baked apple with a sweet sauce.
After dinner the table was cleared off and everybody was ready now to celebrate Christmas Eve. Papa lit the few candles on the Christmas tree, and we all sang “Silent Night, Holy Night” and other Christmas carols.
It was getting late and Papa reminded us to get ready to attend midnight mass. The Church was packed to capacity and the service was about “Peace to all men”.
As we left the church, it was still snowing, but the wind had stopped blowing. It was a beautiful night and everybody was hurrying home, because while we were all at church, Santa Claus would have visited our house (or so we hoped) and had left a present for us. Sure enough, in the meantime Santa Claus did visit our house! (I never did figure out how Mama or Papa managed to get all the presents put under the tree while we were all in church together.)
The gifts were knitted socks, scarves, sweaters and wooden toys for the children. We could play with our new toys for a while, and then it was off to bed, dreaming about a wonderful Christmas. As I started to fall asleep, I could hear the wind starting to pick up again, and in the distance I was sure I could hear the laughing and singing of the little Karzelkis coming from underneath the floorboards. One of these little fellows even came up to me and pinched me in the arm, saying, “Wake up, wake up.”
I must have been sort of half asleep sitting by the window and watching the snow. As I woke up, my grandson was standing in front of me and saying, “Wake up, wake up, Grandpa, it’s time for Christmas dinner.”