by Jim Gessele
The phenomenon of the "Neujahr Schießer" (New Year's shooters) comes up throughout German-Russian family lore and in letters from ancestors in the Russian homeland. One of the best accounts is found in Jake Klotbeacher's memoir As I Remember It.
Klotzbeacher writes about the lonely life of our prairie ancestors: "Dances and other types of entertainment were not available to them due to sparse settlements of most areas. Also, their transportation was strictly by horse-drawn vehicles, particularly in the wintertime. All households would prepare extra food and alcoholic-type beverages on New Year's Eve, then retire for the night. Right after midnight, however, they could expect a rap on their bedroom window, indicating there were some New Year's shooters outside ready to wish them a Happy New Year."
The shooters were young neighborhood men armed with shotguns roaming the rural countryside. They stopped at residences, rapped on windows, and once they had the owner's attention they would recite a verse or sing a song. A typical greeting could go something like this:
Nun ist das neue Jahr gekommen,
Hab' ich es mir vorgenommen,
Euch zu wünschen in der Zeit,
Friede, Glück und Einigkeit.
(Now that the New Year has arrived
I take it upon myself
To wish upon all people
Peace, good fortune and unity.)
Wenn ich Euch nur wünschen könnte
Was ich in meinem Herzen finde,
So viel Glück und so viel Segen
Fährt man nur auf einem Wagen.
Kehrt man in alle Häuser ein,
Leib und Seel' soll gesegnet sein.
(If I could only wish you
What I find in my heart,
So much luck and so many blessings
That they could only be hauled on a wagon.
We stop at all your houses
To bless both body and soul.)
Wir wünschen Euch ein glückseliges Neues Jahr,
Und ein langes Leben,
Darauf soll's Rauch und Feuer geben.
(We wish you a New Year
Filled with good fortune and long life,
And now we offer you smoke and fire.)
Then shots rang out. Once the hoopla died down the Neujahr Schießer were invited inside to partake of the food and drink. Klotzbeacher writes: "After eating and drinking the best wine and schnapps, they'd depart for the next place. By dawn, most were so intoxicated they would start falling out of their sleds."