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Unlike ethnic nationalism, such as Italian-American pizza pie and other alien immigrant foods and foreign customs, the Pennsylvania Dutch Americanisms born out of their immigration of thousands of Rhinelander pilgrims who participated in the 300 year-old early American frontier invented ingenious American ideas which were not native to their German homeland. But the creation of New World experiences which had nothing to do with the Old World, known as Americana inventions.
Foremost among these Americanisms in the “Conestoga wagon” which was invented in the Conestoga Valley of Lancaster County by native Rhineland immigrants, who combined the curved English wagon box with a running gear of Germanic wagon wheel ratios to invent the American Conestoga with huge back wheels. Such a dynamic idea that wheel wrights in Colonial America continued making them up to the post Civil War period.
Equal in popularity in frontier days was the Dutchman’s Pennsylvania Long Rifle which was crafted by gunsmiths for use among frontier settlers for hunting animals or in war times for self-defense. Nicknamed the Kentucky rifle by Southern frontiersmen who did not know it was a PA Dutch invention, it became a major American creation that made PA Dutch gunsmiths a successful living everywhere.
Ultimately, it was not Rhinelander’s Germanic homeland customs and inventions they transferred to the New world that made PA Dutch culture in America important! But how these skilled craftsmen and farmers took advantage of the New World’s resources to create unique Americana inventions and Americanism ideas. In this land of plenty, with resources never dreamed of to make a better life for themselves, the immigrants of the ancient Reformation period, not only sought freedom of religion in America, but dramatic opportunities in a far away land where the sky was their only limit. In professor Henry J. Kauffman’s 1946 book, “Pennsylvania Dutch: American Folk Art”, he displays a variety of Rhineland inspired Folk Art that is certainly a form of Americana creativity, not the old School of Medieval designs which our ancestors left in Europe looking for America’s idealistic land of “milk and honey.” the PA Dutch Country was never a beer gardens, Old World culture! But a farming paradise in which humble people still seek a utopian World Civilization on Earth.
The unique 17th and 18th Century frontier folk culture established by Berks County’s PA Dutch ancestors inspired by their local fraktur American folk Art was responsible for the practice of the modern American celebration of Christmas and Easter. This American celebration of native PA Dutch folk customs and folk art is an Americanism celebration which became widely practiced by fellow Christian citizens throughout the nation. But the Amish and some older Mennonite sects still do not celebrate Christmas and Easter season as do the church PA Dutch demonstrations, who continue an elaborate New World sacred tradition. Nowhere are Christmas trees adorned more beautiful than in the churches of the PA Dutch Country, a typical Americanism of God and Country.
Of all the Americanism ideas associated with the PA Dutch people, their Americanism folk tradition of celebrating Christmas in their Rhineland church denominations is a highlight of the year, as well as the devout Easter season. But the Amish and Mennonite religious sects are more austere in worshiping these religious dates.
Richard L. T. Orth is the assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.