History Of The Moravian Star

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Moravian Stars On The Old Salem Heritage BridgeI love the first signs of Christmas in Winston-Salem, NC, when Moravian stars light up porches, line the streets of downtown, and a giant 31-foot Moravian star is installed atop the tower of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, shining like a beacon. Ever wonder about the origins of the star?

The Moravian star is an illuminated star-shaped lantern, most commonly having 26-points. It is an emblem for the Moravian Protestant faith and is used for advent and Christmas decorations. It is popular in Old Salem (Winston-Salem, NC)  and throughout Moravian settlements, and in Germany & Europe, where there are Moravian congregations.

Birth Of The Moravian Star

Kringle Moravian StarThe star is widely believed to have originated at the Moravian Boy’s School in Niesky, Germany, in the 1830s as a geometry lesson. However, the diary of George F. Bahnson (former school attendee and minister in the NC Moravian settlements of Bethania and (Old) Salem) cited that Christian Madsen, a former student of the Moravian Boy’s School, constructed the first Moravian star for the school’s 50th anniversary and Christmas celebration in 1820.

The star was adopted by the Moravian Church as an advent symbol and has grown in popularity to countries and communities without Moravian congregations. The Moravian star is a common fixture in nativity scenes, or putz, to represent the Star of Bethlehem.

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Mass Production

Around 1880, Peter Verbeek, an alumnus of the Moravian Boy’s School, began making the paper stars and sold them in his bookstore. His son Harry founded the Herrnhut Star Factory in nearby Herrnhut, Germany, which produced the stars in tin and glass, as well as paper versions. He still makes them today, even out of plastic. In Germany, they are known as Herrnhut stars.

In Old Salem

During World War I, the Herrnhut factory was damaged and had to close for a while. However, demand for Moravian stars in American Christmas decorations continued. So Moravians in Old Salem (a historical village in Winston-Salem, NC) began producing them for sale. Writer Winifred Kirkland wrote an account of a visit to Old Salem during Christmas that included a picture of the “Star-Makers House.” They are still made and sold in Old Salem today as paper ornaments, plastic porch lights, and as metal and glass lanterns.

Around The World

A massive Moravian star shines in the dome of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany, and over the alter of Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany, where Johann Sebastian Bach is buried.

What do you love most about the Moravian Star?

Sources: lititzmoravian.org, moravianchurcharchives.org

About The Author:

Born right here in Winston-Salem, NC, at Forsyth Memorial Hospital, Michelle is a native. At age one she moved to Virginia but after spending 30+ years moving around Virginia, Tennessee, Massachusetts, California and even Paris, France, Michelle returned home to Winston-Salem in 2004. A job at Hanes brought her here but the heart of the city has kept her here.

Her favorite things about Winston-Salem are its welcoming people who call it home, its art-centric culture, and its perfect location at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains and a short drive to the beaches of the Atlantic. The lack of traffic is a pretty tremendous asset as well, especially since it gives her more free time to enjoy cooking and playing with her dogs, Lily and Barley. Michelle is one of the many residents of this great city who are thrilled to call this "My Winston-Salem"!

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December 11, 2020 9:58 pm

Where can I purchase a moravian star:

Ann Alexander
December 7, 2019 6:31 pm

I grew up in Home Moravian Church in Winston Salem. My family goes back many generations…in fact, one of my ancestors built the tea pot. I found a plastic battery operated with a timer for the porch this year. Though I live in America’s Oldest City, it looks beautiful surrounded by palm trees.

Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom
November 9, 2019 9:16 pm

Is this being seen on Facebook? I learned to love the Moravian traditions in NC and back in New England would share them with those who like me before, are unaware of them.

December 20, 2019 8:48 am

Yes! It’s on the MyWinston-Salem Facebook page. Thanks for sharing!

November 7, 2019 7:36 am

Mine goes up the first day of advent.

December 19, 2019 4:56 pm
Reply to  Ken

Up the first day of Advent, mine comes down the day after Epiphany.

December 29, 2018 8:30 pm

There are also large Moravian communities in Bethlehem and Nazareth, PA. https://www.mcall.com/features/religion/mc-moravian-star-history-bethlehem-20141212-story.html