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Serious Nonsense : Groundhog Lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German Heritage (Paperback) (William
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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.
In Serious Nonsense, William Donner introduces readers to Pennsylvania German cultural practices that tourists rarely see and that outsiders, including most scholars, rarely learn about. Donner not only explores the origins of the versammlinge but also illustrates how their significance has developed 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.
Serious Nonsense offers readers a glimpse into a little-known performative expression of a cultural identity that is at once an echo of European roots and also uniquely American.