Serious Nonsense

Serious Nonsense

On Thursday, February 7, 2019, Dr. William W. Donner will join LancasterHistory to discuss Pennsylvania German cultural practices that tourists rarely see and that outsiders, including most scholars, rarely learn about. For event details and how to register, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

Book cover of "Serious Nonsense" by William Donner, Ph.D.Versammlinge—community events filled with songs, performances, speeches, and skits that celebrate Pennsylvania German heritage and culture—are held entirely in the Pennsylvania German Deitsch language. Some, the “groundhog lodges,” feature a ceremony honoring the groundhog, while others do not. These unique meetings, expressions of a distinctive ethnic identity in the context of a rapidly changing society, have become a traditional mainstay among Pennsylvania Germans who have worked to preserve their language and culture into the twenty-first century.

Image of William Donner, Ph.D.
William W. Donner, Ph.D.

Serious Nonsense explores the origins of the versammlinge and details the practice’s significance since the 1930s, when the first meetings of the Pennsylvania German groundhog lodges were held. Much as they did then, versammlinge today follow a pattern of prayers, patriotism, and speeches extolling values associated with Pennsylvania German identity, as well as theatrical and oral events that humorously contrast a simpler past with a more complex and confusing present. And the groundhog lodges feature one Pennsylvania German tradition that has become familiar in popular culture: groundhog weather prognostication.

William W. Donner, Ph.D. is Professor of Anthropology at Kutztown University.


A book signing and a casual reception will begin at 4pm on Thursday, February 7 at LancasterHistory, 230 N. President Ave., Lancaster. The main presentation will begin at 4:30pm in Ryder Hall.

The program is free and open to the public but requires advance registration to guarantee a seat at the presentation. Register online by clicking “Buy Tickets” below or by calling (717) 392-4633. Questions and accessibility requests may be directed to or (717) 392-4633. Ticketholders should bring a paper printout of their tickets or be able to display their tickets on a cellphone or other internet-enabled device to check-in to the lecture.

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Book Signing Lecture

February 7, 2019 Ryder Hall at, 230 N. President Avenue Reception & Book Signing 4pm | Presentation 4:30pm FREE | Registration Required To Guarantee Seat