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December 02, 2021

Annual Pennsylvania Dutch 'Parade of Spirits' returns in full to Northern Liberties

The holiday celebration, also known as 'der Geischderschtrutz', will happen on Saturday, December 11

The Parade of Spirits, or "der Geischderschtrutz" as it's known in Pennsylvania Dutch, is returning this year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to reduce the festivities last year. The celebration will take place on Saturday, Dec. 11 in Northern Liberties.

Participants are asked to come in any sort of family-friendly, culturally sensitive costume of their choosing, as in many ways the event could be described as an Amish Halloween.

The Pennsylvania Dutch hold their spooky traditions, including costume-wearing and trick-or-treating, before the winter solstice each year in mid-December, according to the event's press release.

The parade is based around the "Wild Hunt," a fixture of Germanic and other northern European mythologies where a band of otherworldly hunters capture recently departed souls.

In the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, the hunt is led by Gedreier Eckhart, a spirit who guides these recently departed souls to the afterlife.

Krampus, a horned character who scares children who misbehave each Christmas, and Belsnickel, a distinctly Pennsylvania Dutch version of Santa Claus, will also be featured.

Some of these characters are referenced in the season 9 Christmas episode of the Office by Dwight Schrute, who is perhaps the most famous fictional Pennsylvania Dutch speaker and cultural aficionado.

Parade participants will meet in Liberty Lands Park, 913 North 3rd Street, at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The parade will begin at sunset.

Following some opening remarks, paraders will follow the sound of the boomba, a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch percussion instrument, down the sidewalks of Northern Liberties.

Participants will reconvene in Liberty Lands Park afterward where they can socialize around a bonfire. Then, by the light of the flame, bellydancer Lorenda and her partner Aly Louise will perform for the crowd.

Organizers were able to hold the parade last year despite the pandemic, but had to scale it back. The first half of the parade in 2020 was held in silence in honor of those who had been lost to the COVID-19 virus.

The Philadelphia area and Southeast Pennsylvania more broadly have some of the oldest and best preserved German American communities in the nation.

In the colonial area, thousands of German-speaking settlers flooded Philadelphia.

Although this massive migration predated the modern German nation-state by more than a century, the immigrants formed cultural enclaves like Philly's Germantown neighborhood. Some also moved into the commonwealth's vast unsettled countryside where many made a living farming.

In the region today known as Pennsylvania Dutch country, large numbers of Mennonite settlers from Southwest Germany came and brought their unique dialects with them. Those tongues are the base of the modern Pennsylvania Dutch language.

Today the language is for the most part only spoken by the Amish, a diffuse group of particularly observant Mennonites who reject most modern technology. But before World War I temporarily soured the general American perception of Germans, the language was widely spoken in the cities like Lancaster, Reading and their environs.

The term "Dutch" confuses some. These German-speaking settlers did not come from the Netherlands. In Pennsylvania Dutch, the word "Deitsch" means German. The cognate in modern standard German is "Deutsch."

Parade of Spirits

Saturday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m.
Liberty Lands Park
913 N. Third St., Philadelphia, PA 19123