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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

October 31, 1907

Yes, I know I should have written this for last week’s column or maybe even the week before that, but we historians like to wait until things have settled. It turned out that no one chose to disrupt Halloween with genuine horror, which many feared. The date, however, meant more to me than Halloween as usual, as it was the 110th anniversary of my mother’s birth on a Minnesota farm. On October 31, 1907, she became the oldest of my grandparents’ eventual twelve children. Their parents had been immigrants from German-speaking provinces before there was a united Germany. Except for one family branch, they came from farming lands near the Baltic Sea, close to modern Denmark and Poland.

German was their family language when Mom was born, but that changed a decade later, after the United States entered World War I in 1917. To prove their loyalty to America, they spoke English at home and school -- but their Lutheran pastor still clung to what he perceived as God’s chosen language, and Mom’s teenage confirmation classes were in German. As late as when she married in 1928, this pastor still used German – much to the disgust of my father, who also was Lutheran, but of Norwegian heritage.

Mom’s 1907 world was very different from the world in which she died, in 2002 in southern Georgia. The Minnesota Schultz-Otto family had no electricity or plumbing, and they used horses, not tractors, for plowing and planting. But when cars became available in the 1920s, Grandpa bought two: By then, the family was so big that they couldn’t fit into one. He let Mom drive, something that many men didn’t allow, and after short haircuts for women became popular, he encouraged her to bob her hair.

His wife, my grandmother, however, never learned to drive and rarely went anywhere without him. She waited until1963, when she was dying, to tell him how much she resented that he went to the 1927 Minnesota State Fair and left her home with babies -- while he stayed with her relatives in St. Paul. Her long-nursed grievance never had crossed his mind, and he cried. Despite fluency in two languages, she couldn’t find feminist words.

October 31, Going Backwards to 1517

My parents moved us from Minnesota to Arkansas when I was ten. They carried their Lutheran directory with them and looked at properties according to their proximity to a Lutheran church, preferably one of the Missouri Synod that was dominated by Germans. It was called that, as opposed to the Wisconsin Synod, because of differing immigration patterns. Scandinavian Lutherans usually came across the Great Lakes and spread out from Wisconsin; early Germans went across the Gulf and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, which remains the Missouri Synod headquarters.

I’m ignoring here the really earliest German immigrants, who settled especially in Pennsylvania and North Carolina long before Germany was a defined nation; today we know them by such terms as Moravian and Pennsylvania Dutch. They began arriving in the late 1600s, while the major German and Scandinavian Lutheran synods began in the 1800s. Their differences seem as much ethnic as doctrinal, but I remember loud arguments when Grandpa switched from the Missouri to the Wisconsin Synod after World War II.

I still can’t say that I understand his reasons, but I recall him objecting to my brother being a Boy Scout, perhaps because it was too similar to Hitler Youth -- yet brother’s Scout troop met at the Norwegian church, not the German one to which we belonged. Except for the monolithic Catholic, there were no other active churches in our town. And the doctrinal differences that were so important then seem trivial now, but as a child, I saw families blown apart if a Catholic married a Lutheran.

Anyway, going back in time again, some German immigrants on the Mississippi River got off the boat before reaching St. Louis and settled in Arkansas, which is reflected in place names such as Stuttgart and Lutherville. Those were the places my parents looked up in the church directory, and thus I also was confirmed by a pastor with a decidedly German bias. It seemed to me that he took an almost sadistic delight in holding evening services on October 31, interfering with both trick-or-treating and our school’s Halloween Carnival for teenagers. But for Lutherans, October 31 was Reformation Day, and when the church doors were open, we went.

Reformation Day, 1517

On October 31, 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg. That is in Saxony, in the east-central part of modern Germany, and the 95 items was his list of complaints against the Roman Catholic Church. With the exception of a few paganists to the north, the Greek Orthodox Church to the south, and hidden Jews, the Roman Catholic Church was the de facto religion in all of Europe. Church and state were the same until 1533, when England’s King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his Spanish wife and Rome refused to grant it. He created his own Church of England, which was enabled by the increasing spread of Lutheranism.

Luther was not the only protestor against corruption in the Italian-based church, but he managed to avoid the beheading or burning that other rebels suffered during the Inquisition of the 1500s and 1600s. This relative safety doubtless was enhanced by the fact that he broke his vows in 1525 and married a nun who also broke her vows. Her name was Katherina von Bora, and the “von” tells you that she was upper class. They had six children and a happy family life. Luther composed music, including tunes for children such as “Away in a Manger,” and they are credited with introducing Christmas trees.

By the way, Mom grew up with Christmas trees that used lighted candles. Her parents went into the parlor at twilight on Christmas Eve (late afternoon up there); they lit the candles and opened the doors to the children for brief gazing before, of course, going to church. But Christmas Eve services did include presents. The standard one when I was growing up was a brown paper bag with an apple, an orange, several unshelled nuts, and hard ribbon candy.

October 31, 2017 - 500th Anniversary

Martin Luther died in 1546, less than three decades after beginning the Protestant Reformation, but because of the contemporaneous invention of the printing press, also in Germany, his views soon were known across Europe and even in America. Florida had its first permanent settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and like all Spanish colonies, it was a theocracy in which church and state were synonymous. These colonists referred to the French settlers near modern Jacksonville as “Lutherans,” even though French Protestants generally were known as Huguenots – and were not necessarily followers of the German Luther. Close enough, though, for the Spanish, who slaughtered virtually all of the French in a dawn attack using swords and axes.

So, yes, from Luther’s 1517 protest on through the next two centuries, Europeans waged cruel war against each other in the name of Christ. The beginning of the end was 1688, when the English executed their Catholic king, Charles II. He was followed by Queens Mary and Anne, sensible monarchs who didn’t push religious ideas, and when Anne died in 1714, Parliament brought over George I of Saxony, a German-speaking Protestant who had just enough English ancestors to justify his coronation. The really interesting thing about this, though, is that Queen Anne died without a direct heir, despite bearing seventeen children. All but one infant died soon after birth, and the sole survivor died at age eleven. Says something about maternal health, doesn’t it?

But that’s an aside. I want to return to the fact that October 31, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the end, Luther’s Reformation did not so much reform Catholicism as it encouraged dissenting ideas. English Puritans similarly tried to purify the Church of England in the 1600s, and they soon were followed by Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, and other religions that were considered cults when they began. In America, Puritans evolved into Congregationalists, and that word in itself indicates a huge democratization of religion. Instead of a hierarchy based in Rome, these new religions proclaimed the primacy of individual congregations and even individual believers, something that worked well with American democracy.

Meanwhile Europe, worn out from wars between so-called Christians, has become less and less religious. Its churches could not survive today on the American system of donations, but Europeans have used taxes to preserve both ancient Catholic cathedrals and grand Lutheran churches. The church at Wittenberg is one of these, and some of my Midwestern friends and family made plans long ago for a pilgrimage there in October of 2017. While this 500th anniversary attracted almost no attention here in Tampa, it was a very big deal where Lutheranism is the dominant religion.

My oldest brother, the only one of six siblings who never left Minnesota, went to four services during the week of Reformation Day. In the tradition of Luther, Bach, Handel, and other German composers, all of these events included serious music. One featured an ensemble of instruments used in the 1500s, and Minneapolis relatives drove more than a hundred miles for it. Here in Tampa Bay, however, except for an ad for a concert at a Pinellas Presbyterian church that sort of featured the Reformation, I saw nothing.

Another Culture, and a Question

Tampa has profound Spanish and Italian influences, but relatively few of its immigrants were strong Catholics. The Protestant tradition that preceded them also was not of the zealous sort that characterized much of the North. Instead, the major influence in early Tampa was Fort Brooke and its soldiers, and the town had far more saloons than churches.

Spain, however, remained an official theocracy with the royal family as head of the church until the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Hubby and I thought about those issues again when we watched a Netflix series called “The Time in Between.” That refers to the era between World Wars I and II, and in Spain, it meant war between democrats and fascists. Tampans generally supported the rebel side, but it lost to the anti-democratic forces allied with Hitler. The show’s action occurred not only in Spain, but also in Portugal and Morocco, and because we lived in that area for three months in 1988, we especially enjoyed the setting. The English subtitles were not at all hard to follow, and I recommend it.

But here’s the new thing I learned. In an episode set in Madrid on New Year’s Eve, it was clear that not only champagne was necessary, but also grapes. I’d never heard of that tradition, so I googled it – and sure enough, people who claim to know Spanish culture aver that eating twelve grapes at midnight guarantees good fortune for the coming year. I suspect that this is a newish “tradition,” as fresh grapes in mid-winter Spain would have been difficult to obtain. If Tampa’s Spanish people ever ate grapes for luck, I’ve never heard it. Please let me know if you know, okay?


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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