Tag Archive | Holidays

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Exhibit floor highlight


Object: Cookie iron

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Krumkake Iron
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood

 Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a Norwegian krumkake iron.  Not to be confused with crumb cake, this Norwegian cookie is pronounced kroom-kai-kuh, and means bent or curved cake.  The plural is krumkaker. Krumkake is a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie.  Krumkaker are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cream.  They look and taste very similar to waffle cones, and are made in a device that looks similar to a waffle iron.

Krumkake irons are decorative two-sided iron griddles, with intricate patterns that vary based on what region of Norway it’s from.  Older irons were designed to be held and turned over an open fire, and had wooden handles to be able to turn them without getting burned.  Newer versions are electric, and allow bakers to make more, in a shorter period of time.

Once the batter is poured onto the griddle, it’s baked to a light golden brown.  While still hot, it’s rolled into small cones with the use of a conical rolling pin.  Krumkaker can be filled with virtually anything- from whipped cream, to chocolate, to berries, or can just be sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Christmas cookie” became popular, possibly due to the fact that ovens became popular household appliances around that time.  However, cookies in Norway were categorized as one of three types: those baked in an iron, those that were deep fried, and those baked in ovens.  Cookies baked in irons- like krumkaker– can be traced back at least a thousand years.

In the pre-Christian Viking tradition, during the dark afternoons of the Winter Solstice, children would go from house to house looking for treats.  Because Norway is so close to the North Pole, darkness came by 4 o’clock during the months of December and January.

Before Christmas began being celebrated in Norway, around 1000- 1100, Norwegians celebrated Jul (the English tweaked this to yule) a time to celebrate the last of the harvest, and a way to look forward to spring.  It was a celebration of light manifested through the yule log thrown on the fire.

Norwegian Christmas is a celebration of more than a thousand years of beliefs and traditions, all tied together in a month-long celebration.  The baking, the solstice, the celebration of light, and Christian faith, all come together for the holiday season.

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by www.mylittlenorway.com

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by http://www.mylittlenorway.com

Perhaps this explains why krumkake has endured.  Today, it is a featured element in the tradition of “seven sorts,” which is a Norwegian holiday baking custom.  Per tradition, seven traditional cookies are to be baked and served during the holidays.  Although which cookies are included in the seven are disputed, krumkake is the most widely accepted, along with pepperkaker (gingerbread).

Norway’s holiday traditions are still honored by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants across the American mid-west, and communities in Texas.  The krumkake is just one of many elements of Norwegian tradition that interlock the past and the present. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Cornelius, James M.  The Norwegian Americans.  New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Mellbye, Anne-Lise, Dana Fossum.  Christmas in Norway.  Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996.

Stokker, Kathleen.  Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land.  St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.  The Norwegian Texans.  San Antonio: University of Texas, 1970.

Object: Trick or Treat Bag

United States
Materials: Wax Paper, Ink

Halloween is this Friday, which means it will be a night of costumes and, of course, Trick or Treating. Trick or Treating is an integral part of Halloween celebrations for most children in the United States. For most Texans today, Trick or Treating is a normal tradition for anyone born during the 1940’s and after. Even though it has been going on for some time, the practice as we know it is less than 100 years old. Today’s version of Trick or Treating developed during the early part of the 20th century as a way to keep youths from playing tricks and vandalizing different parts of the city. Children and older youths were encouraged to dress up in costumes and go to the different houses in the neighborhood to receive candy or other goodies.

Trick or Treating may have some origins in a tradition associated with the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day. In England there were special cakes made for the souls which were called “soul cakes” and people would go “a’ soulin” for these cakes. It was usually the poor who went to wealthier homes to collect these “soul cakes,” which they would be given as long as they agreed to pray for family’s dead relatives.


Pumpkins carved with different designs. Image from Simply Art Studios.

Besides Trick or Treating, there are other traditions that take place around Halloween. Carved pumpkins, or jack-o’-lanterns, are a popular holiday decoration. Many families in Texas will go to a pumpkin patch and select a pumpkin or two for carving. The pumpkin is carved to resemble a ghoulish face or other holiday inspired image. In recent years people have also started carving designs based off their favorite cartoon or movie characters. To carve a pumpkin, the top is cut off and then the insides are scooped out. Once everything is cleaned out then the design is drawn on the the outside of the pumpkin. Knives or special carving tools are used to cut out the sketched design. Once the design is complete a candle or other light source is placed inside and the top is placed back on. The light shines through the cutout of the carving and there you have a jack-o-lantern.


A traditional Irish jack-o-lantern that has been carved from a turnip. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

This tradition has its origins in Ireland, but instead of pumpkins, which were not grown there, turnips were used. The tradition is based on the old tale of Stingy Jack who was able to trick and trap the Devil twice. Jack would only release the Devil if he promised not to collect Jack’s soul when he died. The Devil agreed and was set free, but when Jack died he was not allowed into Heaven and he was barred from Hell because the Devil had promised not to collect his soul. The Devil cast Jack into the darkness with an ember from hell that would never go out. So Jack carved a turnip and placed the ember inside and became known as Jack of the Lantern, or Jack O’Lantern. People started carving turnips and creating jack-o’-lanterns so they could see on All Hallows Eve night. When the tradition came to America it was found that pumpkins were easier to carve and so the switch was made from turnip to pumpkin.

This Friday while everyone celebrates in their own way, please remember to be safe and watch for the children while they are out and about Trick or Treating! From the Collections staff here at the ITC, have a fun and safe holiday! (Jennifer McPhail)

Additional Resources:
Barth, Edna, and Ursula Arndt. 1972. Witches, pumpkins, and grinning ghosts; the story of Halloween symbols. New York: Seabury Press.

Morton, Lisa. 2012. Trick or treat : a history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books.

Rogers, Nicholas. 2002. Halloween: from pagan ritual to party night. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Santino, Jack. 1994. All around the year: holidays and celebrations in American life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Santino, Jack. 1994. Halloween and other festivals of death and life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.


Object: Sheep bells


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Sheep bells
mid-20th century
Materials: copper

Jason and the Dragon

Photo via: Traveling Classroom Foundation

People have been raising and herding sheep in Greece for thousands of years. Sheep and their products are even featured in ancient Greek myths;  Jason and the Argonauts‘  go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece, and Polyphemus, the cyclops of the Odyssey is described as a shepherd.  The rocky landscapes found in much of Greece are not well suited for larger animals, like cows, but is ideal for sure-footed sheep and goats. The mild Mediterranean climate also provides an extended growing season, allowing sheep to be left out on pastures for much of the year making them easier to raise. Sheep are used for a number of different products. Wool and meat are only some of products sheep have been raised for over the years. Sheep’s milk  is turned into a variety of cheeses, like feta and kasseri, and is used for traditional Greek yogurt. The leather from their hides are also used to make chamois cloth, and parchment.

Traditionally while the sheep are out grazing they are guided and protected by a human shepherd. In Greece, shepherds use bells to help keep track of their animals. Different sizes of bells are used to create different sounds, and the individual bells can be “tuned” using a hammer to alter their shape. The bells help the shepherd know where his flock is, even when he can’t see them, and can help him avoid accidentally leaving an animal behind when moving the sheep to different pastures. Bells are also used on other types of livestock, particularly cattle, around the world.

In Greece this type of bell is also used during Apokries, or Greek Carnival. There are a number of festivals held throughout Greece during the weeks leading up to the start of Lent, that make up the Apokries.  Many of these festivals feature Koudounatoi, “bell wearers” or “bell ringers;” sometimes the festivities even include people dressed up as sheep themselves. The following video shows an Apokries festival on the island of Crete.


Photo via: Drum Barracks Garrison & Society

Greeks began immigrating to Texas in the late 1800’s. Most left Greece due to economic difficulties, or the ongoing military conflicts in the region, often involving the Ottoman Empire. Many of these immigrants had been farmers and shepherds in their homeland but, often settled in urban areas of Texas where they could find jobs and eventually establish their own restaurants and businesses. However, one early Greek immigrant to Texas, George Caralampa (or Xarlampa), was able to famously continue herding after his arrival in Texas. Mr. Caralampa, also known as “Greek George” was recruited to come to Texas by the US Army in order to herd and care for camels. The government was interested in using camels instead of horses for its mounted troops in deserts and swampy terrain, and Caralampa was selected to help wrangle the camels for the experiment.  Needless to say, this project was short lived, it was put on hold at the start of the Civil War. Some of the camels were seized by the Confederates, others escaped into the wild. At the end of the war the few remaining camels were sold, ending the US army’s camel experiment for good. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Collins, Donna Misner. Ethnic Identification: The Greek Americans of Houston, Texas. New York: AMS Press, 1991.

Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955.

Kardulias, P. Nick, and Mark T. Shutes. Aegean Strategies: Studies of Culture and Environment on the European Fringe. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. The Greek Texans. [San Antonio]: University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures, 1974.

Object: Easter Eggs


Easter Eggs
20th Century
Materials: Egg shells, dye

Map of Lusatia; Image via Project Rastko

Map of Lusatia; Image via Project Rastko

These are a set of one dozen Wendish Easter Eggs decorated in the traditional style. The eggs are colored using different colored dyes. The Wends are a Slavic people from East Germany near Bautzen and Cottbus in the upper Spree River valley, an area long known as Lusatia. They have their own language, Sorbian, which is divided into two dialects, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. The Wends never had an independent nation and were surrounded by Germans. By the 1800’s they were experiencing widespread discrimination. They had difficulty finding jobs, their properties were confiscated, they were forced to use the German language for all business, and were even given German names by the authorities. The Wends also experienced religious oppression as well as cultural. Following the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, Wends became Lutherans. However, in 1817 the Prussian government issued the Edict of Union. This edict was an effort to unify the nation by establishing one church for all. Lutherans, Calvinists, and all types of Protestants were to required to join the new Union of Evangelical Churches. The Wendish were particularly resistant to the newly unified church, believing that it was too different from their Lutheran faith. To escape this oppression many Wends chose to leave their homeland, with most immigrating to either Australia or Texas.

In December of 1854 around 500 Wends immigrated to Texas through Galveston. They ended up settling in Lee County, in the towns of Serbin and Giddings. The Wendish population of Texas spread over time  and there are now sizable populations in Lee, Fayette, Williamson, Coryell, and Bell counties in Texas. After immigrating the Wends held on to many of their traditions and language for years, but overtime the community has slowly assimilated into Texas culture. There are very few speakers of Sorbian left in the world; below is a video of the Lusatia National Anthem which is sung in the native language.

Eggs decorated using the Wax Embossed technique. Image via Polish Art Center.

Eggs decorated using the Wax Embossed technique. Image via Polish Art Center.

One tradition that has been kept alive though is the decorating of Easter Eggs. The four techniques that are most commonly used to decorate the eggs and they are: Wax Batik, Embossed, Acid, and Scratch. Wax Batik is the most common technique used by Wends here in Texas. The egg is either blown (the contents of the egg are removed through a small hole) or hard boiled. Clear wax is then dripped in a pattern on the egg, or for the more skilled decorator, the wax is applied using a feather. Once the wax is applied, the egg is dipped in a dye, the wax keeps that section of the egg from absorbing the dye. After the egg is dried more wax can be added to the design, and the egg can be dyed again. These steps can be repeated many times until the design is complete, and then the wax is removed. Embossing is similar except that most of the time a colored wax is used and is then left on the egg. For either of the Acid or Scratch techniques, the egg is dyed and then the designs are either created using Acid or the design is scratched into the egg. The eggs on display here at the Institute of Texan Cultures were decorated using the Wax Batik technique during one of the Texas Folklife Festivals that takes place here at the Institute every year. [Jennifer McPhail, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:
Blasig, Anne. 1954. The Wends of Texas. San Antonio: Naylor Co.

Engerrand, George C. 1972. The so-called Wends of Germany and their colonies in Texas and in Australia. San Francisco: R and E Research Associates.

Grider, Sylvia Ann. 1982. The Wendish Texans. [San Antonio]: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures–San Antonio.

Nielsen, George R. 1989. In search of a home nineteenth-century Wendish immigration. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Rittenhouse, Jack D. 1962. Wendish language printing in Texas. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop.

Sneak Peek

The Research, Exhibits & Collections Department has just a few days to put all the finishing touches on the Hats Off to Fiesta! exhibit, that opens on March 28th. Below are a few sneak peek images of the exhibit, to tide you over until the big reveal.

Help us spread the word about the exhibit by using the hashtag #hatsofftoitc when you tweet! As a bonus, you can receive 10% off an ITC membership when you use the hash tag, see the ITC Gift Shop on your next visit for details on this great deal.

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for the Fiesta® Family Day on April 26th!

Sneak Peek

The Education Department has been hard at work today installing a group of student-made Fiesta hats for the Colors of Fiesta exhibit that opens on March 28th. Below are a couple sneak peek images of the exhibit in progress, enjoy!

Object: Figurine


Figurine, Religious
Unknown, likely Mexico
Materials: Paper Mache

This object is a Tree of Life candelabra made from paper mache for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. It is decorated with flowers, small figures of people, and small figures of skeletons. The candelabra is decorated in bright colors such as pinks, purples, blues, yellows, and oranges. Since the candelabra is made using the style of the Tree of Life and with the theme of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it is likely that the object was made in Mexico.

The Tree of Life is a theme that is seen from several cultures all over the world and is also referred to as the World Tree. This tree is used to explain creation and how the world and cosmos function together.  Depending on the culture, the tree is either an actual tree that exists in the world or is a metaphor. In Mesoamerica the Tree of Life is a typically thought of as part of the Axis Mundi; the branches supported the heavens, the trunk of the tree was the earth, and the roots were the underworld. The tree divided the universe into four sections with each section being associated with a different cardinal direction, element, color, season, etc. With the conquest by the Spanish the old gods and beliefs were systematically eliminated and replaced with Christianity. So the idea of the World Tree as the center of the Axis Mundi was transformed into the Tree of Life with stories from the Bible being told instead of the old mythologies of the Mesoamerican cultures.


Traditional Tree of Life with Garden of Eden theme from Metepec, Mexico State at the crafts section of the Feria del Caballo, Texcoco, Mexico State, Mexico

The Tree of Life candelabras are generally made from clay and are meant to hold incense burners or candles, though if they are for purely decorative purposes they are sometimes made from paper mache. These decorative versions still have the holders for incense or candles, but they are not meant to be burned. These incense/candelabras started being commissioned by the Spanish friars with the theme being the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and The Fall. After years the themes that were used for the Tree of Life candelabras started to change and incorporate other ideas based on the artists preferences. Biblical stories, the histories of Mesoamerica and their cultures, Dia de los Muertos themes, and even some whimsical themes were starting to be used. Most of these types of candelabras are made in three areas in Mexico: Metepec in the state of Mexico, Izucar de Matamoros in the state of Puebla, and Acatlan de Osorio also in the state of Puebla. These three towns are well known for their pottery styles and their local artists.


Cemetery at Leon Guanajuato, Mexico during Day of the Dead on November 2, 2012. Tomas Castelazo, http://www.tomascastelazo.com, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

This particular Tree of Life candelabra is designed with the theme of Dia de los Muertos in mind. Dia de los Muertos means Day of the Dead in Spanish. This is a celebration that takes place from midnight on October 31 through November 2. November 1 is believed to be the day when the souls of deceased children are allowed to return from heaven and on November 2 the souls of the adults are allowed to return. During this celebration altars built in private homes, and the cemeteries are cleaned and decorated for the arrival of the spirits. There are special foods prepared and several different decorations are used, such as sugar skulls, papel picados, and calacas/cavaleras. This type of celebration took place throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish arrived with Catholicism. Each culture had their own name for it and their own traditions; it was a celebration of death and the ancestors. When the Spanish arrived they were eager to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. The indigenous people of Mexico would often attach some of their old customs to the newly introduced Christian holidays, particularly when the celebrations fell around the same time of year. In the case of the Day of the Dead, it fell around the same time as All Souls Day and All Saints Day on the Christian Calendar, and so evolved into what it is today through the melding of these two traditions. [Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Eliade, Mircea. 1991. Images and symbols: studies in religious symbolism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Eliade, Mircea, and Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. 1992. Symbolism, the sacred, and the arts. New York: Continuum.

Greenleigh, John, and Rosalind Rosoff Beimler. 1998. The days of the dead: Mexico’s Festival of Communion with the Departed. Rohnert Park, CA: Pomegranate.

Haley, Shawn D., and Curt Fukuda. 2004. Day of the Dead: when two worlds meet in Oaxaca. New York: Berghahn Books.

Leeming, David Adams, and David Adams Leeming. 2010. Creation myths of the world: an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Marchi, Regina M. 2009. Day of the Dead in the USA the migration and transformation of a cultural phenomenon. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=311994.

Mulryan, Lenore Hoag, and Delia A. Cosentino. 2003. Ceramic trees of life: popular art from Mexico. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.

Whitcomb, Therese T., and Linda McAllister. 1983. Árbol de la vida, the ceramics of Metepec: an evolutionary study of the Mexican tree of life. San Diego, Ca: University of San Diego.

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