Serious Nonsense

Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German Heritage

By (author) William W. Donner

Paperback - £23.95

Publication date:

15 May 2016

Length of book:

208 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271071183

Versammlinge—community events filled with songs, performances, speeches, and skits that celebrate Pennsylvania German heritage and culture—are held entirely in the Pennsylvania German Deitsch language. Some, the “groundhog lodges,” feature a ceremony honoring the groundhog, while others do not. These unique meetings, expressions of a distinctive ethnic identity in the context of a rapidly changing society, have become a traditional mainstay among Pennsylvania Germans who have worked to preserve their language and culture into the twenty-first century.

Serious Nonsense introduces readers to Pennsylvania German cultural practices that tourists rarely see and that outsiders, including most scholars, rarely learn about. The book explores the origins of the versammlinge and details the practice’s significance since the 1930s, when the first meetings of the Pennsylvania German groundhog lodges were held. Much as they did then, versammlinge today follow a pattern of prayers, patriotism, and speeches extolling values associated with Pennsylvania German identity, as well as theatrical and oral events that humorously contrast a simpler past with a more complex and confusing present. And the groundhog lodges feature one Pennsylvania German tradition that has become familiar in popular culture: groundhog weather prognostication.

“My German grandmother, living in the Rhine valley, used to say, ‘If the badger sees his shadow on Candlemas Day (February 2), winter is going to stay for another six weeks. If not, there will be an early spring.’ This old Palatine country saying, which helped local farmers predict the weather, is nearly forgotten today. In Germany, only a few people know that this belief has been transplanted to Pennsylvania, where the groundhog has replaced the badger, and that a few thousand Pennsylvania Germans still use the old lore as a background to the celebration of their heritage and language every February. That is the story Bill Donner tells. This book will be a standard reference for researchers and for Americans with a Pennsylvania German background. And even in Germany—especially in the Palatinate—people will be interested in learning how this part of their local culture has been ‘Americanized’ over the years.”

—Michael Werner, publisher, Hiwwe wie Driwwe