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South Dakota Focus | 50 Years of German Christmas

Traditions of Christmas transcend generations and are often rooted in faith and family. One’s language and culture play an important role in these traditions. And for 50 years German speakers in Sioux Falls come together each Christmas to celebrate in the language of their hearts and culture.

“I really enjoy bringing that German tradition to all the other Germans in Sioux Falls and surrounding areas. It is nice to have it in German, it just evokes a feeling in you that’s really hard to do in English. I never thought it would be possible because, it’s just a language, you would think it doesn’t matter, but it does matter. It gives you that feeling of home and in one hour gives you that special feeling,” Kagone said.

Stefanie Kagone grew up in Germany and came to Sioux Falls more than 15 years ago. She serves on a committee of volunteers who organize the Annual German Christmas church service.

“It’s because we don’t have our families here, because we are so far away. Personally, that is why it is very important, it gives you that feeling of home, feeling of family is there…in that church you all become family. It feels like, “oh yeah, this is Christmas.” Singing the songs in German and hearing a sermon in German, it is very touching,” Kagone said.

“Today to you a Savior has been born.”

“Today, to you a Savior has been born,” shares Constanze Hagmaier. She’s the Bisohop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Born and raised in Germany, Hagmaier first attended the German Christmas Service 30 years ago as a high school exchange student living with a host family in Brandon, South Dakota.

She gave the sermon during the 50th anniversary service.

“For many of us, when we celebrate Christmas there are all these memories that come flooding back. There’s this connection between my childhood in Germany and now having my own children, and we are still singing Silent Night….For me of course, it is my German heritage, that finds its unique place here. Living in two worlds, that is true for anyone that lives and grows up with two cultures. There are not many who understand…there is a peace that opens up that people get who are of the same language,” Hagmaier said.

A Christmas tree is at the center of a German tradition many celebrating at this German service treasure.

It’s tradition in many Countries in Europe to wait until Christmas Eve to set up the Christmas tree. It is decorated with real candles and it is a surprise to children.

At 85 Helga Szameit recalls her mother finding a way to create this tradition for her and her sister in the midst of World War II.

2 photo of Helga as a child.jpg
Courtesy Photo
Helga Haydl Szameit with her mother, Maria Haydl and sister, Bruni Haydl in refugee camp in Peuerach, Austria 1944.

“Ah, it was beautiful. Even when we were in the refugee camp and we had nothing, mother found a tree and put little stuff on it, she would open the window, and rang a bell and say, “Oh, the Christ Child was here and brought the tree.” I just turned around and there it was,” Szameit said.

After the war, the family emigrated to Sioux Falls in 1956. Helga and her husband, Manfred, were among a group of German refugees who started the German Christmas Service.

“50 years, my goodness. … Christmas is special. We love the American songs, but you need something from home,” Szameit said.

Helga’s daughter Alexandra Szameit grew up attending the German Christmas service. And today, Alexandra shares the tradition with her daughter, Rosalía.

Helga Szameit German Christmas
Lura Roti
50 years ago Helga Szameit (center) was among a group of German emigrants who started the German Christmas Service in Sioux Falls. The tradition continues. Szameit is pictured here with her daughter, Alexandra and granddaughter, Rosalia.

“It’s about friends and family and getting together…we join in the fellowship hall and talk and see how everyone is doing, ” Alexandra Szameit said.

Held annually the second Sunday in December, in addition to music and sermon, German Christmas treats - sweet and savory – also play a role in this celebration.

Lura Roti is a freelance reporter working with SDPB.
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