An old letter to the Christkind

December 20, 2011

Earlier this year, when I wrote a series of posts about My ancestors’ books, I left out one particular book, i.e. Das Buch der Erfindungen, Gewerbe und Industrien [The book of inventions, crafts and industries] published in 1895. Despite its title, this is actually not a single book but a 9-volume encyclopedia:

It’s quite fancy and beautifully bound, so you may be wondering why I didn’t include it among my ancestors’ books in the first place. The reason for this is twofold: First, I’m not sure how long this encyclopedia has actually been in my family. It used to be in my late grandfather’s office, but no one knows whether it was an heirlom from his side of the family or whether he simply acquired it second hand as a decoration piece for his office.

Second, I was saving it for Christmas… This is due to a folded piece of paper that I found tucked in among the last pages of volume 9:

Once unfolded, this piece of paper turned out to be an old letter to the Christkind – as some of you will know, in Austria (and other parts of Central Europe) it’s the Christkind [Christ child] himself who brings all the Christmas gifts rather than outsourcing this task to a specialist like Santa Claus. Anyway, here’s the letter…

… and here’s a transcription of what it says:

Liebes Gristkind. // Ich bitte dich. // Ich wünsche mir ein Latschka, einen Regenschirm einen Muff ein Gleid und eine Schürtze und Haarmaschen.

[Dear Christ child. // I beg you. // I wish for a latschka, an umbrella a muff a dress and an apron and hair bows.]

As mentioned above, I’m not sure about the encyclopedia’s provenance so I have no idea who wrote that letter all those years ago. What is apparent, though, from the listed items is that it must have been written by a woman or a girl (or, of course, by the only cross-dresser in the village). Also, judging by the handwriting, I’d say it most likely dates to the early 20th century. And from certain orthographic peculiarities (i.e. Gristkind and Gleid instead of Christkind and Kleid) we may deduce that it was indeed written in the eastern part of Austria where we don’t really distinguish between “g” and “k” when speaking.

The one question that remains unsolved is “What’s a Latschka?” For all I know, this word doesn’t exist neither in proper German nor in our regional dialect. My best guess is that it’s a malaproprism of the Czech word látka which means cloth – both in the sense of fabric and of kerchief or scarf. This may seem far-fetched, but at the times of the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire quite a lot of Czech and Hungarian words were abosrbed into Austrian German. And, of course, a cloth or scarf would fit in perfectly with the other items listed in that old letter to the Christkind…

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