Shooting in Christmas

Shooting in Christmas

In some areas of Europe, the United States, and Lebanon people celebrate Christmas Eve by making noise. One especially noisy custom comes from central and northern Europe and is called "shooting in Christmas." In Germany some people still follow this old folk tradition. Several hundred marksmen gather in Berchtesgaden, Germany, each year on Christmas Eve. As midnight approaches, they fire rifles and mortars for nearly an hour to usher in Christmas. Folklorists suspect that in past times people hoped that the sudden bangs produced by noisemaking customs such as these would frighten off evil spirits (see also Ghosts; Twelve Days of Christmas).

Emigrants brought this custom with them to the United States, where it sometimes migrated from Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve. In the eighteenth century bands of men tramped from house to house between midnight and dawn on New Year's Eve in Pennsylvania's German communities (see also Mummers Parade). They shot off their guns, recited folk rhymes, and partook of each household's hospitality. This noisy habit irritated some of their neighbors. In 1774 the Pennsylvania Assembly attempted to preserve the general peace by passing an act prohibiting any random firing of guns on or around New Year's Day.

In spite of this opposition, the custom of shooting in the new year lingered on in some German-American communities until well into the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century many southerners and westerners shot off guns to welcome in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (see also America, Christmas in Nineteenth-Century; Williamsburg,Virginia, Christmas in Colonial). Southerners added to the din by setting off firecrackers as well.

Further Reading

Barrick, Mac E. German-American Folklore. Little Rock, Ark.: August House, 1987. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, andCelebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1997. Kirchner, Audrey Burie, and Margaret R. Tassia. In Days Gone By: Folkloreand Traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003