30 June 2016

Ja, das ist ein distelfink

I ran across the word while reading a story by Charles Kuralt, and despite my Pennsylvania German heritage, I had to look it up.
A distelfink is a stylized goldfinch, probably based on the European variety.  It frequently appears in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art.  It represents happiness and good fortune and the Pennsylvania German people, and is a common theme in hex signs and in fraktur. The word distelfink (literally 'thistle-finch') is the German name for the European goldfinch.
Next step: look up fraktur:
Fraktur is both a style of lettering and a highly artistic and elaborate illuminated folk art created by the Pennsylvania Dutch...
And then to understand why the "goldfinch" looks so odd, I had to look at photos to see that the European goldfinch looks way different from the American ones that are at our feeders all the time.


  1. Interesting. I was surprised to see a "Birth and Baptism Certificate" from the Pennsylvania Dutch. I was under the impression that they were Anabaptists (Amish and Mennonite) and wouldn't produce such a thing. But apparently they originally included large numbers of Lutheran and others who integrated into American society more rapidly than the Anabaptists.

  2. I was not aware of how different european and american goldfinches look!
    Also a Distelfink is also called a Stieglitz (and the German wikipedia entry about the Distelfink is actually titled Stieglitz, so it's the more official name. Don't know about Dutch). In the German entry it also says it's not only a symbol for happyness and endurance, but also fertility.
    In religious (christian) context he is also seen as a symbol for the passion of Christ - because of his love for thistles.

    Also on the German wiki page is the story that people told each other, how the Distelfink got it's plummage: When God went around to distribute colors to the birds, the Distelfink was very modestly sitting in a corner and God came to him last - no colors were left. So he looked in every pot and got out the last bits of colors he could find, resulting in his colorful plummage.

    1. Thank you, Ellen. One learns something every day.


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