Eastern Slovakia
Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research

The Coming of the Gubi - Bethlehem Carolers
by David Kuchta

I would like to pass on a tradition that was done in my hometowns of Lansford and Nesquehoning, Pa. This old Christmas tradition was told to me by my wife Theresa.

She said when she was quite young; a group of men and boys from Lansford and Nesquehoning would parade up her street dressed in costumes and masks. She remembers that they made a lot of noise with noisemakers, bells and one of them carried a wooden hatchet.

She said that she was so scarred of them, that one year she ran up into the attic to hide from them.

Just recently, I have heard from Mike Kneis of Lansford. He told me he was one of the Kubo, who went around the homes in Lansford and Summit Hill. His group of boys and young men were from St. Michael's in Lansford. They came around during the 30s. He was only 10 years old and they filled his pants and jacket with straw. He said by the time they got down to the West End of Lansford, the other guys in the group had to carry him home.

My wife's father, John Robin was a big kidder and would call these guys into the house. He would laugh his head off, at the shenanigans these guys pulled off.

I had contacted many people for information about these "Kubo, Gubi, or Goobie" people. They were also called Pasteri, which means Shepherds.

I got bits and pieces of information, here and there. Finally Steve Brunda called Victor Pituch and got the whole story about them. Talk about getting it from the horse's mouth. Pituch was one of the groups that came around to the homes in our area.

He recalls members of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church, which presented skits in keeping with the holy day, made the visitations.

Although they had a lot of fun, it was also a very religious type of "skit" that they presented.

Many families awaited the visit of these carolers or "Bethlehemers" from the church. The "Jaslickary or Bethlehemcy" were carol singers dressed as angels and shepherds. They carried a little Greek/Russian type of church, which contained a nativity set inside.

One of the group also dressed like St. Nick or Santa Claus and would carry a container to take donations from each household. These donations were for the Pasteri or Shepherds to divide among themselves. Along with the group, an official from the church would be there to receive and document any donations to the church itself.

The way I understand, there were "Kubo or Gubi" groups from not only the Russian, but Greek and Slovak churches down there in Nesquehoning. Each group had their own way of doing things.

St. John's Russian Orthodox Church group when going to each home, would put the model of the church, which contained a Nativity Scene on a table, and then each shepherd would kneel before it and say a particular verse. Also each group dressed in different types of costumes and hats. Some of the groups wore hoods and sheep type masks. According to Victor Pituch, these were the scariest of them all.

The Bethlehemers" were dressed in white garments, with elevated stovepipe cylinder hats. Their outfits also included ribbons of flashy colors across their chest. They also carried staves and a star. Some groups also had on sheep skin capes and wore various masks.

John Gazdick from Nesquehoning remembers being one of the "Gubi." He said he used to put on extra large pants and stuff them with straw. He also said that they wore masks and carried different bells and noisemakers.

The "Kubo, or Gubi," as some people called them, was the comedian in the group, and naturally the main attraction. He chases the children with his wooden hatchet, and threatened to kidnap the bad kids. The "Kuba or Gubi" also chased the girls, attempting to kiss them.

The "Skit" consists of a short presentation of hymns, carols, and the announcement of the glorious birth of Christ.

Refreshments were offered to the "Bethlehemers," as they helped to spread the cheer and joy of Christ's Nativity. Like I said, it was a religious type of thing, but in every house they were offered a little good cheer, and by the time some of these guys got finished, they were feeling quite happy, to say the least.

The visitors reminded everyone about the Angels who brought tidings of great joy to the shepherds as they watched their sheep at night. "For behold, I bring unto you, tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."

The carolers, like the Angels, beckoned their listeners to go to Bethlehem or the church to witness the miraculous birth of Jesus. And so, after the visitation of the carolers, the families, like the shepherd, hastened to attend worship services.

The different shepherds say certain verses. There is also singing. Toward the end of the of the presentation when the Old Shepherd who is standing, recites the follow verse.

Dear Orthodox Christians who have so kindly received us into your home; We wish you health, happiness and prosperity. May you praise the Eternal God, and my He bless you for many happy and blessed years! Then they sing one special hymn and the presentation is ended.

We all have our religious customs of some type or other. Religious customs help to preserve our identity. The rich and unique heritage of our forefathers however is slowly being lost by the younger generation as they assimilate into the American way of life.

The customs in the home preserve the idea of the church within the home.

I do think it is a shame that many of these customs are going by the wayside.

In a very short time, many of these wonderful cherished traditions will be lost and gone forever.

I do hope that my article has brought back pleasant memories to many of my faithful readers. I also hope that by writing about these wonderful times, I may help preserve this wonderful tradition. God Bless and may everyone have a very Merry Christmas!

A similar play with carollers took place all over America. Circa 1929, a Bethlehem Play was performed in Flint, Michigan, complete with a great group photo. The photo shows much of what Dave talks about.

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Nebo y Zemla (Heaven and Earth) - midi arr. by Randall Kopchak