The Moravian Star: What Does It Mean? From Old Salem To Your Tree

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Moravian stars glowing in the night
Moravian stars are a common sight across Winston-Salem, especially during the holidays. But what do they mean?

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.

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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.

Beginning in absolute darkness the Moravian Star hung high in the sanctuary begins to glow as a solo voice and the choir in hushed tones sings the familiar German “Stille Nacht, heilege Nacht!” The choir with organ and orchestra leads with hymns and anthems in the manner of Singstunde, wonderfully combining music and the Word. At the height of the musical experience a child leads in the antiphonal hymn, “Morning Star, O Cheering Sight.”

Colors Of The Star

Moravian stars hanging and glowing on trees at night
The white Moravian star is the one you’ll most commonly see.

The white Moravian star is the one you’ll commonly encounter, but did you know the first star had alternating red and white points? Over the years Moravian stars have also included red and yellow, white and yellow, and a yellow “starburst” with a red center.

Moravian star with white and red points
The colors of the first Moravian star were alternating white and red.

Symbol And Meaning

According to Moravian tradition, the star itself symbolizes Jesus Christ who was born to be the Light of the World. The many points reach out to all mankind in all parts of the world.

Where To Buy

Where’s the best place to get a Moravian star? Well, if you’re local to Winston-Salem, most definitely in Old Salem. There’s plenty of other retailers around town (and local artists and artisans) that will have them on hand, especially during the holidays.

If you’re out of town or having trouble finding one, you can also get them easily on Amazon at the Kringle Traditions Store. It’s available in many colors, and we’ve posted assembly instructions below. And if you get stuck, just ask us in the comments!

A traditional white Moravian star, purchasable on Amazon
This traditional white Moravian star is not that difficult to assemble if you follow our instructions.

How To Assemble

Assembly instructions are almost always included when you purchase a star. The visual below illustrates how to assemble most stars in two simple steps.

Moravian star assembly instructions: place the large and small spires into the hexagon base, and secure them with a twist. Work your way around the star until it's complete.
Moravian star assembly instructions: place the large and small spires into the hexagon base, and secure them with a twist. Work your way around the star until it’s complete.

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.

Moravian Candle Tea

Now that you know all about the Moravian star, get ready for one of the year’s most anticipated events. The Moravian candle tea at Old Salem has been a Winston-Salem Christmas tradition since 1929. Participants experience the sights, sounds, smells, and even the tastes of early Moravian Christmas traditions.

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