Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Vrolijk Kerstfeest!" - Merry Christmas from Govert, South Dakota!

"Merry Christmas" from Kate VanderBoom in Colorado and "Vrolijk Kerstfeest" from Hans van der Boom* of Hoogvliet, The Netherlands! This blog posting is a collaboration between cousins, Hans and Kate.

Govert Van der Boom wasn't always a big fish living in the small pond of Govert, South Dakota. He wasn't always the founder of a town, the owner of the mercantile, the land locator, the postmaster, the notary, the U.S. Commissioner, civic booster, and sales representative for International Harvester, husband to Emma, father to Virgil, Gordon, and Roger. He wasn't always the man after whom a town and a newspaper were named. Once, back in 1909, Govert filed a claim on 160 acres of prairie land, just like every other homesteader in Harding County, South Dakota.

After filing a claim to enter his homestead in August 1909, Govert remained in Govert, South Dakota, the town named after him, for a total of 19 Christmases. Govert and his partner, Howard Jacobs, were not alone in the 36 square miles of the township but, in 1909, they might as well have been. Only 12 other men and one woman had been known to make homestead entry in the township since 1903, and most of them were long gone by 1909.

Those first three Christmases in Harding County may have been shared with other homesteaders. Otherwise the bachelor partners would have returned to the homes of their parents, where their families gathered, Govert Van der Boom to Platte, South Dakota, and Howard Jacobs to Wessington Springs. Govert spent his fourth Christmas as a homesteader with his new wife, Emma, a homesteader in Butte County just south of the county line from Govert township; they were married 3 November 1912.

Govert Van der Boom's Christmas tradition was Dutch. Born in Holland, Govert came to America at the age of seven and grew up in his big Dutch family of 10, in Platte, South Dakota. The van der Booms attended the Platte Dutch Reformed Church and, together with the other Dutch families in Platte, perpetuated Dutch customs and traditions, and the Dutch language. Govert Van der Boom never lost his Dutch accent.

This man who never lost his Dutch accent thought in two languages. For those Christmases shared with his American-born wife and his new friends on the prairie ... while everyone around him was singing "Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright" ... the Dutch words must have filled his memory and curled around his tongue. The words Govert Van der Boom hummed to himself followed the same tune ... Stille nacht, Heilige nacht.

Stille nacht, Heilige nacht,
Davids zoon lang verwacht.
Die miljoenen eens zaligen zal,
Wordt geboren in Bethlehems stal.
Hij, der schepselen heer,
Hij, der schepselen heer.

Although "Silent Night" long ago became one of the common songs that bound early settlers regardless of their faith, in a way similar to "Amazing Grace", neither song appeared in the Dutch Psalmbook. My cousin, Hans van der Boom, knows about these things because he is an historian, heart, mind and soul, and he is Dutch-born. Hans tells us that in the practice of their faith, our Dutch ancestors ... yours, too, if you have Dutch ancestry ... were strict and righteous, and they professed their faith in a deep and intense way.

All of our immigrants brought their traditions and customs ... and their music ... with them aboard the ship. With the dilution of tradition through the passing generations in America, sometimes we forget this. Hans will help us remember the Dutch Christmas music the van der Booms brought to America.

The remainder of this blog posting is in the words of Hans van der Boom. Here's Hans:

"Silent Night" seems to be considered an appropriate song for the stricter religions, which surprised me a little [writes Hans]. I thought the song to be much younger, but the English translation seems to date from 1863, and the original lyric is from 1818.

The Dutch Psalmbook contains only the 150 approved Psalms. The real stuff in our ancestors' psalm books that pertains to Christmas and can be sung are the Psalms; those that pertain to Christmas are Psalm 89, 98, 111 and 118. Traditionally the psalms were not accompanied by an organ or other musical instrument. Govert Van der Boom's Dutch ancestors would have been led by a "voorzanger", a pre-singer who first sang the hymn as example. 

A psalm considered "christmasy" is "Ere zij God" (Honour unto God). This is a simple song, based on the Bible book of Luke 2:1-20, in which the Christmas story is told.

Ere zij God
Ere zij God
In de hoge, in de hoge, in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen een welbehagen.
Ere zij God in de hoge
Ere zij God in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen, in de mensen een welbehagen
In de mensen een welbehagen, een welbehagen
Ere zij God
Ere zij God
In de hoge, in de hoge, in de hoge
Vrede op aarde, vrede op aarde
In de mensen een welbehagen.
Amen, amen.

Glory to God! (2X) In the highest! (3X)
Peace on the earth, peace on the earth to the people who have God's favor.
Glory to God in the highest! (2X) Peace on the earth. (4X)
To the people, to the people who have God's favor.
To the people who have God's favor, who have God's favor!
Glory to God! Glory to God! In the highest! In the highest! In the highest!
Peace on the earth, peace on the earth to the people who have God's favor.
Amen, amen.

I've read that the words to "Ere zij God" come straight from the Bible, the angels' "song" in Luke 2. A popular Dutch carol, it's also very popular in Christian Reformed churches in Canada where it's often used as the closing song of Christmas day services. Another, rather archaic, one is "Komt allen tezamen" (Adeste Fideles), originally a mid-18th century Catholic song with the English text, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", introduced in 1841 by Frederick Oakely.

Another with a Catholic origin, although our ancestors probably didn't know that, is: "De herdertjes lagen bij nachte". I think this is typically Dutch, and probably dates from the 17th century.

De herdertjes lagen bij nachte
Zij lagen bij nacht in het veld
Zij hielden vol trouwe de wachte
Zij hadden hun schaapjes geteld
Daar hoorden zij 'd engelen zingen
Hun liederen vloeiend en klaar
De herders naar Bethlehem gingen
't liep tegen het nieuwe jaar

There seems to be an English translation (which follows), but it is set to another melody. Wouldn't that have been fun? People from different countries essentially singing the same song but getting totally confused because the music is different! The English version is 17th century, too, appearing in print the first time in Brady's Psalter in 1702.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.

Probably the oldest one is "Nu zijt wellekome", even more archaic than the rest and dating from Medieval time, probably the 14th or 15th century (Gregorian), but with the oldest known music version dating from the 16th century. Kyrieleis means "Have Mercy Oh Lord".

Nu zijt wellekome Jesu, lieve Heer,
Gij komt van alzo hoge, van alzo veer.
Nu zijt wellekome van de hoge hemel neer.
Hier al in dit aardrijk zijt Gij gezien nooit meer.

This modern English translation dates to 2005:

Jesus, You are welcome here with us today.
You came to earth from heaven on Christmas day.
Jesus, You are welcome now to stay with us again.
In our sinful hearts, give us mercy, come and reign.

What Hans tells us about traditional Dutch Christmas music also explains why Govert Van der Boom carried to Harding County the intensity of the faith of his Dutch parents who came to America, the faith of his Dutch grandparents who remained in Holland. In a country of immigrants, Govert's neighbors would understand if he did hum the words to himself in Dutch ... "Stille nacht, Heilige nacht ..." remembering what he could of his grandparents and life in the Old Country.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[*You may wonder at the many spellings of the family name. Historically "van der Boom" is correct. Because Govert chose to Americanize his name as an adult, "Van der Boom" is now also correct. Because Govert's son Roger decided to further Americanize his family name, "VanderBoom" is correct. Those who choose to spell their name "Vander Boom" or "Vanderboom" are also correct. This blog is written with gratitude to Hans van der Boom, for his insight, his knowledge, and his interest in his American cousins.]


  1. Dear Kate, you do me too much honour! I've been remiss, not in reading but in commenting on your wonderful blog of late but I assure you that the only reason is that, in my line of business (communication within the field of the housing and care for the elderly) the weeks before christmas and the new year are very busy and rather hectic. Add to that many other obligations, including the organisation of the big Reunion for people from my hometown, which is held only once every 5 years, and you understand why my admiring comments have been missing :-)

    Please continue giving us these wonderful glimpses in the life of the prairie settlers in general and Govert and his family in particular. I, for one, love them and love to listen to the wind blowing through the prairie grass from our green pastures behind the dykes!

    Merry Christmas to All!

    1. I enjoyed collaborating with you on this posting, Hans. You gave me such a good sense of the passion with which our ancestors practiced their faith, something the van der Booms would not have left behind when they boarded their ship to America. We'll collaborate again. I already have more ideas!

  2. Sweetheart,

    Sincere thanks to you and Hans for collaborating on a wonderful, Christmas-themed blog posting this week. You continue to keep us in the holiday spirit…and, at the same time, continue to educate us about Govert, the man, and Govert, the town.

    Additionally, this week we also learn about Dutch Christmas traditions, in particular about Dutch Christmas-oriented and religious music. And, again this week, the embedded links in your blog posting add so much depth and richness to yours and Hans’s writing. That rendition of “Stille nacht” is very beautiful to listen to, and certainly evokes warm feelings of past Christmases, and sparks anticipation for this year’s Christmas soon to come.

    So, thanks for another creative, informative, and well-written blog entry. Your blog site continues to expand our base of knowledge about Govert, its residents, and the cultural and historical setting in which it was situated.

    By the way, the information on the spelling of your family name is fascinating…very interesting.

    Merry Christmas from me too!



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