"Wunschen" (wish) is a tradition which has been passed down through generations of Germans from Russia and is still in existence and practiced today. This tradition is a somewhat common event among those descendants of Germans who came to the United States
from Russia during the middle of the 19th century, and later.
It is a practice which takes place on New Year's Day and involves relatives and friends visiting each other throughout the day. These visits are still made today to the homes of those who have the desire to participate.
When I was a youngster in the thirties, we lived in the 100 block of South Quincy. It was common practice to start immediately after eight o'clock Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church on New Years Day visiting grandparents, godparents, uncles/aunts and
friends for the purpose of "wunschen". Practically all of these relatives and friends lived within walking distance of church, an area bounded by Harrison, Jefferson, First, and Fourth Streets. Therefore, one didn't have to travel very far to "make the rounds".
This visit entailed a greeting by each visitor, including the children, to the host(s) "wishing" them a Happy New Year. The normal greeting, always spoken in German, went something like this: "Ich wunschen euch ein Gluckliches Neues Jahr, lange leben, gesundheit, friede und einigheit, nach euer tod die ewige glueckseligkeit". For the pure German, the spelling may not be correct, but this is as we knew it. Translation (as we knew it): I wish you a Happy New Year, long life, health, peace and harmony, and
after your death - eternal happiness.
The host's kitchen, dining room table, or both, were filled with eats of all sorts. This included ham and home-baked breads, but mostly home-made goodies such as "galreih" or "zitter" (a type of headcheese), "blut wurst" (blood sausage), and grebble (the original funnel cake). In all of this the "wunschers" participated.
The adults were each offered "ein bissa schnapps" (a little schnapps), which was usually illegal, hard liquor cooked by anyone who had a still, or access to a still, or knew a bootlegger. The polite thing to do was to ask the host to take the first
drink "stech in ihr hand" (keep in your hand). Of course, if the host stayed home the entire day, he/she might possibly be a little tipsy by mid-afternoon or evening.
I remember many an early morning of New Years, (usually about 12:20AM), when one of our uncles would come "wunschen", breaking the early morning silence with a shotgun blast in the air. My folks' home was his second stop — he first visited the home of his mother and father immediately after midnight, which was just a block away.By daybreak, our uncle had already "made the rounds" and wasn't really ready or able to receive any visitors at his house. What a way to start the new year!
One of the things we children really looked forward to was the anticipation of "wie viel gelt" (how much money) one would accumulate by the end of the day. A nickel or dime, in those days, was hard to come by, and how we so cherished the "gelt" from each
family we visited.
(Thanks to Mike Beier for sharing his family's tradition with us.)