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I 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
The 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.
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?
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