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The German Fight for Music and Christmas



Most of the early American settlers in the Ann Arbor area came from New England or upstate New York, bringing a puritanical culture. Christmas was seen as pagan and treated as an ordinary workday. Germans, however, had long celebrated Christmas. It probably did have some pagan origins, since horned men used to parade in Swabia around Christmas time. It was Martin Luther who established the German Christmas holiday as a counter to the Catholic celebration of December 6th, St. Nicholas Day.

The head of the spiritual community in Ann Arbor, Pastor Frederick Schmid, mentioned celebrating Christmas soon after the Swabians arrived, but puritanical Americans paid no heed. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregtionalists, and Quakers in Ann Arbor started to loosen up, and in 1870 the American government declared it to be a national holiday. The puritanical settlers also eventually accepted another German custom, the Easter Bunny fun for children.


Weihnachtsmarkt enjoyed by Ann Arborites in Kerrytown

Christkindlmarkt or Christmas Market at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.


St.Nick's scary helper in Ann Arbor's Kerrytown

In Catholic parts of Swabia, St. Nick traditionally had a fearsome helper who chastised bad children who were undeserving of Christmas gifts. This Krumpus was part of a German Christmas observance at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.



Puritanical Americans in Ann Arbor were also against most music in church. Only the biblical Psalms could be sung, and musical instrumental accompaniment was forbidden. The Germans, however, believed they were only following the biblical admonition to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord."

The Americans also wanted the Sabbath to be solemn all day, so they found the playing of loud German brass instruments on Sunday afternoons disconcerting. In 1875, Michigan Presbyterians, as well as the state's Methodists, weighed against the desecration of Sunday's quiet by "braying bands of music."

Ann Arbor's Swabians paid little heed to the puritanical strictures. In fact, music permeated much of the German community. They founded musical societies, and Reuben and Pauline Kempf taught piano and voice at their home on Division Street.


Kempf House Museum, a center for Swabian music



Plaque describing Kempfs teaching voice and piano

Plaque outside the Kempf House Museum indicating its importance for music in Ann Arbor.


Steinway piano

The Steinway grand piano at Kempf House. The University of Michigan used to borrow it for visits to Ann Abor by eminent musicians like Paderewski.


Another Swabian, David Allmendinger, started manufacturing organs and, later, pianos for export to Europe. It became the second largest industry in Ann Arbor after the University of Michigan.


Ann Arbor Organ Company advertisement

An advertisement in the 1901 Ann Arbor City Dirctory.


A product of the Allmendinger Organ Factory

A hand-carved organ. Later ones were machined. A number of organs can be found in the museum in the large Allmendinger factory building on First Street, Ann Arbor.

Naturally music is still popular in the German community, including in the rural area west of town.


Manchester Chicken Broil with Swabian music

The Luke Schaible band plays at many gatherings in rural Washtenaw County. Here, at Manchester's Chicken Broil.