Christmas at Chortitz: A New Perspective

Andrew and I attended “Christmas at Chortitz” this past Saturday. There are many places named Chortitz, so I’ll be specific: I’m talking about a hamlet in the Rural Municipality of Hanover, in southeast Manitoba. When Mennonites settled here in 1874, they named this place Chortitz, but the place-name fell victim to the Canadian government’s plan to anglicize the Mennonites; today it’s known as Randolph.

This Chortitz church building has been standing since 1897, but Chortitzers have been meeting in a church here on this precise location since 1877. (The first church building burned; this was the rebuild.) It’s the oldest building in Hanover, and its history is important too, as Chortitz served as a sort of regional capital in the early days of the East Reserve.

A congregation met here until 2010, at which point remaining members began meeting at other, larger churches in their denomination, and the building was shuttered.

And then, a determined group of historically-minded folks got together and saved this rare treasure! If you keep your ear to the ground, you’ll find out about neat events taking place periodically in this historic building… like Christmas at Chortitz! We attended last year, but this year proved to be a completely different experience for us. We arrived late, and had to sit in the very front… FACING the rest of the attendees.

View from where I was sitting.

It was quite something to be sitting knee-to-knee and toe-to-toe with strangers. And then, it happened: Der Friedensfuerst. Andrew whispered to me, “Uh-oh… here it comes.” The announcement that anyone who enjoys singing this complicated German Christmas song should come to the front. Not knowing German in general, nor this song in particular, yet finding ourselves stuck at the front of the church left us in an interesting, somewhat awkward situation. But to be honest, I take a great deal of delight in situations just like this. It was quirky and hilarious and… a real blessing! I mean, when else can you just sit in the middle of a choir, without participating, and just take it in? All that joy, and spirit of generosity, of sharing their voices… it was so completely lovely.

This was my view during Der Friedensfuerst:

Taking in the merry sounds… from my seat within the choir. Wunderbar!

Another highlight was Harvey Plett sharing stories of Christmas in the midst of war, and posing some thought-provoking questions. From my vantage point, I noticed I was not the only one tearing up at his words.

Oh look — cookies!

Being at the very front meant I was able to take a picture before chaos erupted.

I wanted to show you just how nicely, warmly full to bursting this cute little country church is! Like being inside a picturesque Christmas card.

A view out a north-facing window… and some people’s reflections (including Andrew’s).

On our way out, I took a pic of “where the magic happens” (haha) — where cookies and coffee was being replenished at the back of the church:

We had attended the 3:30pm service. Since it’s a very dark time of year, we saw the remaining end of the sunset:

This event matters to me because it’s a glimpse of the past. A chance to see the kind of services that took place here for over a century. And it’s so beautiful when a group of volunteers puts their hearts and souls into sharing their culture and their history. Our history.

The Chortitz Church Heritage Committee has built this lovely new little interpretive shelter next to the church, so even if you visit when the church is locked, you can learn about this site and sign the guestbook!

Feature photo: looking out one of the merrily-decorated windows, facing south toward the Chortitz Heritage Cemetery, where our car is parked. (Our car is rather accustomed to parking at cemeteries.) 

Other posts about Chortitz, East Reserve: 

Christmas at Chortitz! (That’s in Randolph, BTW.)

Today It’s Randolph, But Back Then It Was Chortitz

There’s Something About Neufeld Garage (& This Luke Jacob Concert)