A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

Rosemary in the Life of the Danube Swabians
by Hans Gehl
ranslated by Nick Tullius, 2006
Published at, Oct 2006 by Jody McKim Pharr

A little bouquet of rosemary (popularly called Rosmarein), symbol of love, faith and earth, is our constant companion throughout the year and throughout our whole life, from the joyous celebration of baptism to the hour of leave-taking from the deceased2. This is expressed in the following folk-song from Jahrmarkt in Banat:

Rosmarein, Rosmarein,
you will always be with us.

When we’re laughing under the maypole
and bring that festival to life,

When we get married and
put that ring on our finger,

And when we gather
after someone’s last hours,

It serves us at the dead one’s bier
as it once did in our young years.

Christening & Name Day




Schwabenball "Swabian Ball"

Butcher’s Soup "Metzelsuppe" & Sow Dance "Sautanz"



The little sprig of rosemary, as a symbolic mark, epitomizes fertility, health and life-creating power on special occasions such as christening, wedding and burial, Kirchweih, Swabian ball, and rendering of the pigs, throughout the events that make up a human life.

          The small evergreen shrub with blue flowers, with the scientific name of Rosmarinus officinalis, grows wild on the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Italy. The name comes from the Latin rōsmarīnus 'maritime dew' (rōs 'dew' and marīnus 'belonging to the sea'). In antiquity, the Greeks used rosemary on festive occasions, intertwined with laurel and myrtle, to make wreaths. The Romans brought the highly valued plant to the occident; Charlemagne supported its cultivation. Sebastian Kneipp writes in his book "Meine Wasser-Kur" ("My Water Cure"): “Rosemary is a superb stomach remedy. Prepared and drunk as tea, it cleans the stomach of mucilage, ensures a good appetite and a good digestion …” Old texts on herbal remedies recommend rosemary wine as a remedy against heart diseases. It is said to have a calming effect and in case of dropsy, it causes the elimination of water through urine. Even today rosemary is still considered as an herb for making tea. But much more important for us is the symbolic meaning of a rosemary branch or wreath, which we encounter at every turn. 

Rosemary & Christening and Name Day

          It was customary that the godparents wore a twig of rosemary on the left lapel or on the scarf, as a sign of their faith. At the baptismal dinner, the table was decorated with rosemary, as symbol of love and affection for the newborn. At the celebration of somebody’s name, where relatives and neighbours gathered with a serenade, the “name day bouquet” ("Namenstagsstrauß") expressed the cordial attachment. A sprig of rosemary stuck into an apple was handed over with the following words: 

I’m bringing you a name day bouquet.

It isn’t cute, it isn’t fine,

And it only costs you a glass of wine.

Rosemary & Weddings

          In the past, the rosemary, as a symbol of friendship, love, and faith accompanied the entire wedding. The persons going around to invite the appropriate people to a weeding carried a stick decorated with rosemary. The richly decorated hat of the groom contained branches of rosemary, while the myrtle wreath of the bride, the honour crown of virginity, was worn on the wedding day for the last time. The large Danube-Swabian bridal wreaths and bridal crowns were artistic confections of pearls, leaves, and flowers – all made of wax – but also incorporated branches of myrtle and rosemary. Branches of myrtle made from wax and ribbons were part of the bridal crown in Mramorak (Serbian Banat). On the left lapel of their jacket and blouse, both the groom and the bride wore a little bouquet of rosemary branches. The wedding guests also wore a branch of rosemary: the men in the buttonhole of the jacket, the women mostly in their hands.

          When leaving the parental home, where first the parents and then all guests wished the bridal pair  faithfulness in marriage and a happy married life, the rosemary branch passed from hand to hand as a symbolic expression of this ritual act. Even during dinner the rosemary remained among the guests. When serving the roast, the waiters presented each guest, amids great cheering, with a glass of wine decorated with rosemary. This was followed by “Hauben” – the removal of the bride’s myrtle bouquet and its replacement by a woman’s bonnet, while singing matrimonial songs – all acceptance rituals for the bride into the group of married women.

Rosemary & Burials

          The rosemary plant also had a role as a sign of mourning. That is why the mourners and many members of the village community paid their last respects to the departed by dipping the rosemary branch available on site into holy water, and then sprinkle the body of the dead person in a cross-shaped motion. Sometimes a rosemary bush was planted on the grave, as a symbol of eternal life.

Rosemary & Kirchweih

          In the Banat, the Kirchweih-parade took place with the “maypole” ("Majebaum") being brought into the village, and it was followed by the parade of the Kirchweih-couples carrying a rosemary bouquet about one metre tall and decorated with ribbons, which was the second symbol of the festivity. This bouquet, usually with a quince as its base, was usually called (in Orzidorf and Grabatz, for example) “main bouquet” (“Vorstrauß”) because it was carried by the “first girl dancer” (“Vortänzerin”) ahead of the Kirchwei-procession. If bouquets were auctioned off on Saturday and on Sunday, then the first one was called "evening bouquet" (“Owedsstrauß”) or "little bouquet" (“kleener Strauß”) to which (for example in Billed) a "little Kerwei poem" (kleener Kerweihspruch) was recited. To differentiate it from the little bouquet, the Sunday bouquet was called "large bouquet" (“großer Strauß”). 

          In Potsch (Southern Hungary) the boys marched around to wish people a happy festivity and to invite them to participate. Every invited person received a bouquet (“Kirmesstrauß”) made by the “bouquet girls” (“Straußmädchen") and contributed a donation of money. The bouquet was a branch of rosemary decorated with ribbons of various colours, set into an apple. In addition to these individual bouquets passed on to all guests as a symbol of the Kirchweih, there was a large bouquet similar to the one in the Banat, which was carried at the head of all processions and was subsequently auctioned off. A document from the nineteenth century describes the Kirchweih in the Hungarian Lowlands of the Danube Monarchy and mentions the Banat Kirchweih bouquet: 

          “After the mass they proceed to a specific house for lunch and from there to the store, where they decorated the rosemary bouquet with ribbons of all colours and formed themselves into a large procession2.” 

          Following the procession, the “first dancer” (“Vortänzer”) auctioned off the bouquet, sometimes also the small bouquets made from the large one. In Nitzkydorf they were called "loops" ( “Schlepp”). In 1970 they auctioned off 315 loops. Because that took much too long, they introduced the "small bouquet dance“ ("Sträußleinaustanzen"). Whoever wished to, would have a short dance with the “first girl dancer”, handed the “first dancer” some money, and received from him a sprig of rosemary (it could be a rose, as in Darowa) and a glass of wine. The despoiled trunk of the large bouquet (called “Storze”) was also auctioned off and the money received was given to the “first girl dancer”. In some communities, such as Kleinsanktnikolaus, Liebling, Sackelhausen and Wilagosch, the person obtaining the large bouquet auctioned off Sunday by the barrel would become "first dancer“ for the following year2.   

Rosemary & Schwabenball – Swabian Ball

          As observed often, a migration of customs within the yearly festivals saw the rosemary move from the tradition of the Kirchweih-festival to become part of Swabian balls and folk-costumes balls. 

          As the traditional folk costume declines in the wake of increasing prosperity, it made sense to organize folk-costumes balls in the cities, displaying as many village traditional costumes as possible. Following the example of Budapest, where a country-wide “Swabian ball” (“Landesschwabenball”) took place on February 1, 1925, at the Ofner Katholikenklub II, Swabian balls were introduced in the Banat. During the inter-war years, in Temeswar and in other cities of Hungary and Yugoslavia, such Swabian- or folk-costume balls took place almost every year, with participation of couples from many Banat communities. Folk-costume balls were also organized place in many villages. After the interruption caused by the war, folk-costume balls took place again in the ‘houses of culture’ of many villages. As with the Kirchweih – the biggest Swabian festival of the year – the folk-costume balls were organized by the “first dancer” (“Vortänzer”) or “accountant in charge” (“Geldherr” or “Rechnungsführer”) of the previous year, who carried the large, ribbon-decorated rosemary bouquet at the front of the marching column. To the previous basic elements of the folk-costume ball (festive procession of the participating couples and awarding of a prize for the most beautiful or authentic costume), the migration of customs added the “first dancer” and the auction of the bouquet with recitation of a  suitable poem in the dialect of the village. The following poem was recited in Sankandreas, in 1970:

Liewe Landsleit un liewe Gäscht,

Ich begrieß eich alli uf unsrem Fescht.

Mir sin alli so froh, dass wiedr die Fasching is do.

un mir unser Schwoweball kenne halle,

Un drbei uns alli mol gut unerhalle. - Musik!

Mir hann aa, so wie des is schun Sitt,

De Strauß do wiedr in unsrer Mitt,

De Strauß is e schene Rosmarein,

Er soll stamme schun vum Rhein.

Schen ufgeputzt mit Bänner dran,

Jo, mit dem Strauß do, geht erscht unser Schwoweball an.

Musik! ...

Dear compatriots and dear guests.

I welcome you all to our festival.

We’re all happy that carnival is here

And we can celebrate our Swabian Ball

So that we all can have fun – Music!

We also have, as it is custom,

The bouquet here in our midst,

The bouquet is a beautiful rosemary,

It is supposed to have come from the Rhine.

Nicely decorated with ribbons,

Yes, with this bouquet our Swabian Ball begins!


          At the Nikolaus-Lenau intermediate school in Temeswar the festival was given back to the youth, who, under the guidance of their teaching staff, are carrying it forward to this day. The old tradition is also carried on in Hungary. Because of the increased demand of the guests, two Swabian Balls took place at the University of Economic Sciences in Budapest, on January 23 and January 30, 1992. In addition to the great procession of the pairs dressed in folk-costumes and the auction of the bouquet of rosemary, joint singing and presentations by cultural assemblies took place on the large stage.

Rosemary & Butcher’s Soup (Metzelsuppe) – Sow Dance (Sautanz)

          The rosemary, burdened with so many symbolic meanings, could not be missing from “sow dance” (“Sautanz”), the evening celebration following the full day of hard work involved in butchering one or more pigs. It was customary that a mischievous neighbour would ‘steal’ a piece of pork, such as a leg or tail. During dinner, the neighbour would bring back the missing piece, on a plate that also contained a lit candle and a sprig of rosemary. While standing in the entrance, he would sing the “slaughterer’s song” ("Schlachterlied"): 

Wir haben gehört, ihr hätt geschlacht,

Veiglein rosa.

Ihr hätt so gute Wirscht gemacht,

Veiglein rosa. .

         We have just heard, you killed a pig,

Light red violet.

And that you made such good sausage,

Light red violet.

Veigelein und Röselein, wir trinken gern den roten Wein.

Veiglein rosa.


Violet and roses, we like to drink the red wine,

Light red violet.

          Although the rosemary is not directly mentioned in the song, the song is sung when the rosemary-decorated plate is presented. Some claim that when the song was first created, "Veiglein rosa" (translated here as “light red violet”) actually referred to rosemary. And indeed, the older generation sang "Veigelein und Rosmarein" ("violet and rosemary") more often than the "Veigelein und Röselein" ("violet and rose(s)")  preferred by the young generation. It is known that folk songs are distorted over time, and the whole "slaughterer’s song" superficially only expresses the comic side of the process. The 'stealing' of a piece of pork may be considered a prank and as a pretext for the evening’s feast, but decorating of the plate with rosemary and candles remains a symbolic expression of the sincere, reliable, neighbourly relationship.  


          From our inherited popular culture, we inherited certain dishes and symbols specific to the Banat settlement area and to our native villages, that are worthy of preservation, as unmistakable characteristics of our identity. Besides the churches, monuments and memorial stones, both in the old and new homeland, these include rosemary (once again frequently planted in our new gardens and flower pots in Germany), the authentic “Kirchweihtracht” (“Kirchweih-costume”) and the rosemary bouquet. More important still is the preservation of our sense of community, our readiness to help each other, and the standing together (with the corresponding symbols and rites) of the extended family and the village community, in all situations of life, at festivals and in emergencies, that are symbolically represented by the sprig of rosemary.  

          Even if our sayings and songs (for New Year, name day, wedding, etc.) have been changed and simplified, and the families have become smaller, what is essential is the core of our popular culture and the positive attitude to life of our Swabian (and Danube-Swabian) ancestors. These always deserve to be incorporated into our new surroundings and into our contemporary life partnerships, and to be carried on. 


1 Gehl, Hans 2003: Donauschwäbische Lebensformen an der Mittleren Donau. Interethnisches Zusammenleben und Perspektiven. Marburg: Elwert Verlag 2003. (330 S, 19 Abb., 7 Karten).

2  Lay, Heinrich 1974: Kerweitraditionen im Banat. In: Forschungen zur Volks- und Landeskunde, Bd. 17 / 1, Bukarest.

3  Speck, Hans 1973: Der Rosmarin im Brauchtum. In: Hans Gehl: Heide und Hecke. Beiträge zur Volkskunde der Banater Schwaben. Temeswar: Facla Verlag, S. 85-98.


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