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German~American Day
06 October 2021

The American Community Survey, compiled between 2008 and 2012 and being the most recent analysis, identified 34% of the total population of Bedford County as descending from German ancestors, making them the largest population in the county.

On 6 October 1683 Germantown, Pennsylvania was founded and that date has been celebrated every year since 1883 when the first German Day was celebrated. One hundred years later, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the day as German~American Day. The celebration of German~American Day in the U.S. coincides with celebrations of Oktoberfest in Germany and often includes similar festivities.

The influx of German (and Swiss) immigrants in the years 1682 and 1683 into the colony of Pennsylvania was the direct result of a promotional scheme by the colony's proprietor, William Penn Jr. The colony had been granted to Penn, but he was tasked with obtaining enough families to settle in it to justify its existence. His solution was to publish a brochure advertising the colony's selling points ~ its broad expanses of arable land and the promise of religious freedom ~ and then to distribute them in Germany. Large numbers of Swiss and German families who were fleeing from their homes because of persecution for their religious beliefs were tempted to make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Settling initially in the eastern counties of Pennsylvania where they landed, many of the immigrant families eventually made their way to the frontier of Bedford County.

The first petition to abolish African~American slavery in the Colonies was submitted to the English Parliament by German Quakers on behalf of the residents of Germantown in 1688.

The American Revolutionary War, and the curtailment of travel from Europe to North America, led to a drop off of German immigration into Pennsylvania. By 1820 immigration once more began to rise and for a century nearly seven million Germans emigrated from their homeland to find new lives in the United States. Then, in the 1930s with the persecution of many Germans as Adolf Hitler's Nazi party took over Germany, the number of German immigrants once more rose in North America. Despite their effort to escape from the Nazi takeover of their country, Germans who now embraced America as their homeland found that they were being persecuted by non-Germans. They persevered, though, and thrived.

Not only did the German immigrants survive and thrive in their new homeland on the North American continent, they made many contributions to the betterment of that new homeland. Some of the most prominent contributions came in the form of rich holiday traditions and scientific knowledge. Christmas, as celebrated today in the United States, has especially been influenced by German traditions. The Christmas tree and singing of Christmas Carols come from our German ancestors. German immigrants, themselves, became a valuable contribution. German scientists who had fled the stifling Nazi takeover were often leaders in their fields, but now contributing to U.S. rather than German interests. Scientists such as Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun helped to advance U.S. interests in the fields of theoretical physics and aerospace research. Von Braun's innovations in the field of rocket technology contributed to the U.S. being able to compete with the U.S.S.R. in the space race.

German~American Day celebrates German culture and customs, especially the food and drink. German~Americans celebrate by feasting on sausages (known as wurst in Germany) and kielbasa, often paired with sauerkraut, sauerbraten (beef marinated in vinegar), and fish that can be smoked (kippered) or pickled. Stews and soups are made from a wide variety of vegetables, such as carrots, turnips and cabbage. In fact, cabbage forms the basis of quite a number of traditional German dishes. Chopped and allowed to ferment, it becomes sauerkraut. Boiled with turnips and carrots, it makes a dish known as Savoy cabbage and turnips. And wrapped around loose sausage, cabbage forms the blanket for the popular dish sometimes called simply stuffed cabbage rolls, but known in Pennsylvania as pigs in a blanket. Paired with noodles, a common German side dish, shredded cabbage forms haluski. Pretzels are also very popular in the culture of the country in which they were invented. In regard to the drinks that are traditionally German, none are more evocative of German heritage as beer. The proliferation of micro-breweries throughout the United States in the recent decades have fueled the celebration of German~American Day along with the coincident Oktoberfest festivities.

Along with parades, German~American Day is commonly celebrated with parties entertained by 'oopah bands' playing traditional polkas. Men dress in lederhosen and women dress in dirndl. Lederhosen is short or knee-length leather breeches made from tanned deer hides. They usually have attached suspenders of the same material and are worn with either a plain white or checkered shirt. Over-the-calf stockings complete the outfit. The dirndl for women consists of a high-waisted skirt and a close-fitted bodice with low neckline worn over a blouse. The outfit was completed with a apron over the skirt.

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