Did my ancestors celebrate Christmas as they settled in southwestern Minnesota?
My great great grandfather, a Polish immigrant, bought land from the railroad and settled in rural Minnesota in the late 19th Century. Stories about the lives of these ancestors are few and sketchy. In none of them is Christmas mentioned. Because the Catholic Church of Saint John Cantius in Wilno played a role in their lives, I have to believe they did celebrate Christmas in a way now lost in history. While theirs was a Polish community the story is American.
The first Catholic edifice erected in Lincoln County was at Wilno. This was built in 1883, I think. The Polish people shared in common with other foreigners — coming as they did to a strange land with strange customs and speaking to them in an unknown tongue — the desire to form colonies, to segregate themselves from other nationalities. The motives that impel them to do this are not always understood by the native born American. Our civilization is necessarily a composite, receiving as we do, accessions from all the other civilizations, all are engaged in building the good that is peculiar to the older civilizations from which they come. For one, I have a doubt that freedom’s chemistry will be able to combine these seemingly alien elements into one harmonious whole.Early History of Lincoln County, A.E. Tasker editor.
What we do know is there were fishing trips to South Dakota depicted in a well-circulated photograph of my great grandfather and great great grandfather.
The church history has a photo of men drinking beer and socializing after Sunday Mass. Great great grandfather would drink alcoholic beverages in Wilno then fall into a wagon to be drawn home by the horse. There was no drinking and driving in the horse culture as the horse knew the way to the barn.
There was the stream that separated grandmother’s house from her aunt. She told us about the flooding river, cutting the two houses off from each other. I now know this was the Yellow Medicine River. Grandmother’s aunt had a piano which she wanted to play. Her aunt would not allow it. This affected Grandmother until the end of her life.
I looked at the county on Google Earth and the Polish culture that thrived there is not visible from satellites. It exists through stories passed on by grandmother on the front porch, at the dinner table, in her apartment, and at luncheons at Bishop’s Buffet. I believe they celebrated Christmas in Lincoln County, I don’t have proof. I don’t need it.