A Happy New Year’s Wish 2019

My first language was not English. The language spoken in my father’s parental household and in our home especially when grandparents or Dad’s siblings visited was invariably German. My grandmother never learned English.

My eldest sister tells me that she only learned English when she started school. I do not remember ever speaking German, but somehow there seems to be a vast vocabulary stuck somewhere between my ears which leaks out at peculiar times and contexts. One of those times and contexts is the celebration of each New Year.

The tradition in my home parish of St. Pete’s in rural Saskatchewan where I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s was to gather on those cold New Year’s mornings for the 10:30 a.m. high Mass; in that era it was the feast of “The Circumcision” or the “Naming of Jesus”.

Mass, of course, was the Tridentine Latin Mass. The parish priest proclaimed the Gospel a second time from the raised pulpit in the vernacular, German, and then he gave the German sermon. While that custom eventually changed to include some English, what never changed was what happened after Mass on New Year’s Day.

Rather that standing around as usual visiting in the frozen air, most of the parishioners began the annual ritual pilgrimage starting in the parish rectory and continuing through the homes in the colony, and then through the afternoon to all the surrounding farm households.

Each household was treated to a long German New Year’s song which concluded with a formulaic wish: Ich wünsche euch ein glückseliges Neues Jahr. Langes Leben. Gesündheit. Fried und Einigkeit. Und nach dem Tod, ewigkeit. (“I wish you [everyone in your family] a luck-filled New Year. Long life. Good health. Peace and unity. And after your death, eternal life”.).

Each household then served their many parish guests cookies, cakes, and other sweets, and each visitor had to toss down a shot of whiskey to toast the host. The warmth of the wishes definitely increased as the afternoon lengthened. While that convivial custom eventually disappeared over the years along with the small farms and colony community, nevertheless the words and music somehow remain in my head.

As I have in the past, on this 2019 New Year, I will phone each of my older sisters. Together we’ll sing the old song and declare to each other in German the new year’s wish: Ich wünsche euch ein glückseliges Neues Jahr. Langes Leben. Gesündheit. Fried und Einigkeit. Und nach dem Tod, ewigkeit.


Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

  • Barbara Lewis
    Posted at 08:38h, 14 January Reply

    I keep not getting out a map of Canada.
    You guys are so endearing.
    Same struggles and joy…
    greatly different topography.
    This is a beautiful reflection.
    Thank you.

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