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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home:

European cultures and the people that emigrated

looking for a better life in a continent across the Atlantic

Germans from Russia


Российские немцы

Religious traditions they brought from their homeland

In an effort to avoid the religious conflicts of central Europe that had plagued most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the German colonists in Russia were initially assigned to communities based largely upon their religious affiliation. As a result, when they moved to colonies in the Americas, they replicated these communities, so their towns were made up primarily, and at times exclusively, of people from one of these religious groups: Evangelical (what we would today call Lutheran); Mennonite; Reformed; and Roman Catholic.

German Russians settled in the Great Plains as they had in Russia, according to their faith. In towns where German Russians from more than one village congregated they tended to cluster together, reproducing their home villages in Russia. While some mixed-group settlements were established, most of the groups settled in block communities that were based on religion–Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed or Mennonite–and area of origin in Russia, Black Sea or Volga region. According to 1910 U.S. census data of the approximately 101,808 German Russians who lived in the United States that were wholly or partly in the Great Plains region, nearly 85 percent lived in the Plains proper. The largest concentration of German Russians was in North Dakota (31,910).

The spiritual and religious training of Germans from Russia started in early childhood, as can he read in this article by Alfred Opp. The basic religious training of young children began in the home and was carried out by the parents or grandparents. Family prayer at meals was customary, and some mealtime prayers were short and easily learned by young children. A parent, from time to time, would discuss a spiritual lesson at the meal table, and the reading of a scripture verse was common. In some homes singing was part of the routine for evening worship. Singing was often part of the religious training in the home - as Germans from Russia love to sing. Children were taught one or more bedtime prayers from a young age as well.

Customs and traditions

Christmas celebrations

The celebration of the Christmas season is very important for people of the Christian faith. Most of the traditions we associate with it, were brought here by the Germans, including the ones that came from Russia. You can read more information about how different families celebrated their Christmas with their loved ones here, here, here, and here. NDSU has done an important job of recording and cataloguing these stories for future generations.

Easter celebrations

As with Christmas, the people brought with them the traditions they had in their villages, and replicated them as best they could in the Prairie. Baking and gathering with family is a very important part of every celebration in their culture, but Easter was, and is, especially known for it. The make of Easter bread is a tradition in many families, and for some that was done only during this time of the year. They also decorated eggs using methods they brought from the Old world. More information on how to make this style of bread can be found here. For stories of Good Friday celebrations, go here and here. For a story about decorated eggs, go here.

For more information on the Germans from Russia, you can find a wealth of testimonies and resources in this page from NDSU. For those like me, who enjoy their culinary traditions, they've also made a compilation of recipes here.

The following documentary from Prairie Public, published in December 2010 showcases the diverse history and architectural traditions represented by 117 churches throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Prairie Public's video crew filmed prairie spires, onion domes, and steeples through four seasons. It explores the role churches have in sustaining the history and culture of the rural landscape of the prairie. Often the first community structure to be built and the last to close its doors, these landmarks represent the hopes and dreams of early settlers and the congregations that currently occupy them. These are not only restricted to Germans from Russia, but they contributed greatly to the landscape by having some of these built in their communities.

For a collection of photographs of different aspects of the Germans from Russia's lives, you can visit the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, compiled by NDSU, with over 22,559 Photos.

Also, for a list of restaurants and stores that sell their food all over ND, you can visit this page.

Next week we'll continue this series with more information on the Scandinavian people, who also emigrated here in the 1870s, bringing with them their culture and way of living, and adapting it to the Prairie.

Stay tuned for more information on more cultures in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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