German heritage lives
By JUDY HAZEL
MIFFLINBURG – Strudel, goulash, mittens, scarves, woodcarvers, marionettes and dancers mimicking bird antics – all this and much, much more will stimulate the senses at the 25th annual Christkindl Market in this Union County borough.
The event lasts three days, Thursday, Dec. 12 through Saturday, the 14th.
Begun in 1989, the Christmas market is the oldest, authentic, outdoor German market in the United States. Austria native Rudi Skucek and his Mifflinburg-born wife conceived the idea to promote the huge German heritage of the area.
On Market Street – one block south of Main Street – a two-block area is cordoned off from vehicle traffic and lined with more than 100 outdoor huts offering all things German, for an old-fashioned Christmas celebration.
Authentic German food aromas permeate the air. Items are prepared by local organizations and businesses in separate huts along the route.
Good and hearty soups, German sausages and schnitz and knepp (pronounced snitz-en-nep), which is sliced apples and dumplings, warm the soul.
Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and all kinds of cookies satisfy the sweet tooth.
My favorite is Hungarian goulash served over an orange-sized dumpling ball.
Have a snack, too. Maybe some kettle corn or roasted almonds. And keep warm with gourmet coffee, hot chocolate or hot-spiced wine.
What would a German Christmas celebration be without the local artist scene?
This year, a German master woodcarver returns to demonstrate the precision carving of wooden trees. The delicately curled-under branches on wooden evergreen trees is indeed an art.
Other homemade items include bees’ wax candles, Scherenschnitte, pronounced sharon-sh-net, (symmetrical papercutting designs), Fraktur (colorful paper documents), folding star lanterns, cuckoo clocks and large assortments of crocheted or knitted scarves, mittens and hats.
Don’t forget about the “prune people.” These dried plum figures first were created as toys in German culture. You will find finished “prune people” or kits to make your own.
Marionette shows for the kids and young at heart are performed daily. The outdoor stage features local entertainment such as the Buffalo Brass Ensemble, the Pleasant Valley Dancers and traditional German entertainment.
Listen to alphorn music, watch the Alpenrose Schuhplattlers (a shoe-slapping dance group whose dance mimics the antics of a male Auerhahn bird) and be amazed by Hilby, the Skinny German Juggle Boy.
Also, the several churches that line Market Street will open their doors for musical entertainment.
The spirit of Christmas thrives at the market. Marvel at a 15-foot German Christmas nativity pyramid.
Watch for a wandering Saint Nicholas, and see a moving-through-the-crowd musical Christmas tree.
Take an open carriage ride, and have your holiday greeting cards stamped with a special Christkindl postmark.
View the live, outdoor nativity scene.
Dress warm for the event, as most of the activities will be outside.
The market hours are:
Thursday, 4:30 to 9 p.m.;
- Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
- Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Street and shuttle parking are available. There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated.
Mifflinburg Buggy Museum
In conjunction with the Christkindl Market, the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum, 598 Green St., will display model trains in HO, O, G and Z scale. Admission is charged.
The Buggy Museum became an extraordinary circumstance back in 1978. A retired history professor wanted to celebrate the town’s heritage of buggy making.
Descendants of the Heiss Coach Works responded and opened the doors to their buggy-making factory that lay dormant for 40 years.
What a find! Old tools, tires, wheels, seats, horseshoes, buggies in different stages of completion and much, much more were discovered.
Soon, the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum Association was organized. Volunteers worked to restore found items in the factory and other buildings.
As a not-for-profit museum, the Buggy Museum has the distinguished honor of being only one of 12 craft/industrial museums in the United States that is on its original site.
The museum itself offers a video presentation, a hands-on, “guess what the tool is” display, poster history timelines, artifacts and some original buggies.
The museum only is open in the winter months on Saturdays in November, December and March.
Guided tours are offered April through October of the museum complex that includes the Snyder Visitor Center, the Heiss family home, the carriage house, the original buggy factory and the newly renovated repository, a place that stored and showcased the finished buggies.
The Heiss family home shows how the family lived in the late 1880s to 1920. The carriage house display includes a “surry with a fringe on top.”
Upstairs in the buggy factory building, you can see the room where the carriages were painted.
“The windows (in this side of the factory) were never opened for fear of bugs and dust getting on (the wet) painted surfaces of the buggies,” said As Bronwen Sanders, director of the museum.
The painters received higher wages for working in such hot, humid conditions.
Because of its buggy-making industry, Mifflinburg (named for the first governor of Pennsylvania, Thomas Mifflin) earned the name “Buggy Town,” owing to the fact that the businesses made more horse-drawn carriages per capita than anywhere else in the state.
The first buggy business started in 1845 and continued to expand for others mainly because of the railroad’s 1871 arrival. Also made in town were sleighs, coaches, wagons, carriages and sulkies.
Components for production consisted of wood, iron, leather, varnish, cloth, brass, paint and polish.
Most of the makers handmade their own buggy parts but, soon, these pieces – wheels, bent wood, axles and more – were being railed in from other companies.
At any one time, 20 or more buggy shops were open at a time, producing as many as 5,000 buggies a year.
But, as the automobile came into production in the 1920s, the buggy makers had to close shop.
Thanks to those circumstances in 1978, the Buggy Museum and the moniker, Buggy Town, live on to tell the historical significance to the Mifflinburg Area.