An Old Salem Christmas

THE many-pointed ``Moravian Advent star'' and the ruffled candles of the ``love feast ceremony'' are unique and traditional Christmas symbols that have special meaning for Moravian people around the world. Stars, candles, and music - and other events and customs - make the holiday season special in Old Salem. On one particular day in mid-December every year, the sights, sounds, and smells of this little Moravian town are much the same as they probably were at Christmas around the year 1800.

The music of Moravian bands fills the village square. There's a rumble of covered-wagon wheels. And the night watchman calls out the hours all night long. Bonfires blaze, and huge sides of beef or lamb turn slowly on a roasting spit.

Inside the handsome half-timbered buildings, people are working by candlelight. A woman in early Moravian dress treadles a spinning wheel. A craftsman works at his bench. The air is filled with the rich aroma of foods and open fires and the sound of singing.

Love feast: symbol of fellowship

Although there are festive foods, the Moravian celebrations at Christmas are mostly religious. A unique part of the holiday is a Moravian love feast, one of the most distinctive of Christmas church services. This traditional ceremony is celebrated in the Home Moravian Church at Old Salem every year and on other special church holidays.

A love feast is actually a simple meal in the church. Women members called dieners (from the German word for servant), dressed in white with little white caps, pass special yeast buns in large baskets, which go up and down the aisle like collection plates.

Men of the church carry heavy trays with coffee to each row of seats. The man who makes the coffee holds an important position, wearing his uniform for the occasion, a long white apron.

The ceremony is symbolic of the fellowship of the church. The thought behind the serving of food is that those who break bread together are united as one large family in fellowship, the way a family is.

Love feasts are held in connection with other holidays as well, such as New Year's, Easter - and on special days such as church anniversaries and a day set aside to honor missionaries.

Homemade candles in churches

On Christmas Eve, after the love feast has been served and the mugs collected, the lights in the church are turned off, and ushers appear with trays full of lighted candles. These are distributed to everyone in the congregation, adults and children alike.

Homemade candles of beeswax and tallow, made with the same formula used by early settlers of Old Salem, are burned in most of the churches. The candlemaking begins in the summer. Forty thousand love feast candles are made by hand each year by the Mary Ann Fogle Service League, a volunteer group of 50 women that adopted the candles as its project in 1950.

The group uses about 2,200 pounds of beeswax annually, plus about 600 pounds of beef tallow. Individuals in Winston-Salem also make candles, and some churches make their own. At Home Moravian Church, 60 people work one full day in late November to trim about 4,000 candles with the red ruffle.

Candleholders were used originally, but as attendance increased they were impractical. Red ribbons are added to symbolize the ``lighting of a blood-red flame in the hearts of worshipers.''

Records indicate that the first use of candles at a Christmas service in America was in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1756, where many Moravians still live. A group of these Pennsylvanian Moravians settled in North Carolina in 1753, thus establishing the foothold for what is now Old Salem.

In the homes of Salem, the Christmas season is marked with the preparation of special foods. Candles are used, too, in the restored houses around the village square, and a table of traditional foods of the early 19th century is set in the dining room of the 1819 John Vogler House, home of Salem's silversmith.

Food in home and tavern

Recipes for the dishes below are from old recipe books of the early Moravians. A typical holiday menu includes Roast Leg of Lamb With Mushrooms, Potato Pancakes, Mint Sauce, Green Peas, Salmagundi, and French Rolls. Traditional desserts are Boiled Custard, Citron Tarts, and German Lebkuchen cookies.

Moravian dishes are served to the public at the Salem Tavern Dining Rooms, where menus have been adapted to contemporary taste. Period furniture and period costumes for waiters and waitresses add to the atmosphere of an early 19th-century tavern. The special holiday foods are in tune with the festive nature of Christmas outside Salem.

The usual trappings and trimmings of commercial holiday decorations are not a part of these celebrations. Life in the early years was hard, and records show that Salem people were not able to stop often to plan holiday festivities or fashion decorations for their homes as we do today.

Visitors who come to the village during holiday season will see craftsmen working in their shops, women cooking and spinning and dyeing wool, and the night watchman calling out his hours in chants composed in 1727 by Count Zinsendorf, the early patron of the Moravians in Europe.

Although there were festive foods, Christmas was a religious occasion for the Moravians and their activities were all centered on the church. Most of the simple decorations in their homes reflected the religious nature of their observances. So it is that the decorations are primarily simple greenery and ``illuminations'' of Bible scenes.

Music and warmhearted spirits

Everywhere there is music, for music was as much a part of the Moravians' everyday lives as prayers. Especially at Christmas, Salem resounds with chorales and anthems. Bands play on the street corners, and in the buildings are the sounds of violins, flutes, organ, harpsichord, and voices raised in song.

Both candles and the Moravian star have been symbols of Christmas for many years. The star is used in many kinds of decoration. It was designed and developed in the Moravian school handcraft sessions in Niesky, Germany, in the mid-1800s.

Moravians throughout the world hang the 26-point stars on their porches and in their windows during Advent. During the 1800s, German children made them with red and white parchment paper and illuminated them with oil lamps. At the turn of the century, they were made in yellow, white, or red and a combination of the three. Today Americans prefer white stars.

The sights, sounds, and smells at Salem Christmas are simple, but together they recapture for one day the devout, warmhearted spirit of the men, women, and children who lived at Salem in the old days. Love Feast Buns (Brother Christian Winkler) 1 cup hot, dry mashed potatoes, unseasoned 1/2 cup scalded milk 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs, beaten Flour for soft dough (about 11/2 pounds) 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 2 packages yeast 1/2 cup warm water 2 tablespoons orange rind 2 tablespoons lemon rind 2 tablespoons orange juice 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon mace

Cream butter and sugar; add potatoes, mix well. Add lukewarm milk, then eggs, mix well. Dissolve yeast in warm water, and add to mixture.

Combine seasonings and rinds; mix in. Add enough flour to make soft dough. Knead on well-floured table. Form into ball; place in greased bowl. Cover with cloth. Let rise in warm place till double in size. Punch down. Let rise again 5 to 10 minutes. Flour hands well (dough will be sticky), and form into small balls (about 3 ounces). Place on cookie sheet.

Slash tops with razor blade (to release air). Cover. Let rise till doubled in size. Bake at 350 degrees F. till golden brown all over, 15 to 20 minutes. Makes about 30 buns. German Lebkuchen 1 pound dark brown sugar 3 whole eggs and yolks of 3 more 1/4 pound citron, finely shaved on a ``slaw-cutter'' 1/2 pound English walnut meats (chopped fine) 4 cups flour 2 tablespoons baking powder

Sift flour with baking powder. Mix all ingredients well together. Do not roll thin like gingersnaps, but about a half-inch thick. Cut out about size of large coffee cup. Bake in moderate oven and when cold, ice the cakes with the following icing.

Icing 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup water 3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Boil sugar and water 7 minutes; pour over egg whites. Ice the cakes. Place cakes in tin box when icing has become cold, and these will keep quite a long time.

Roast Lamb 7- to 9-pound leg of lamb Melted butter Flour Salt Parsley

Lay down to a clear good fire that will not want stirring or altering (325 degrees to 350 degrees F.).

Baste with butter, dust on flour; baste with the dripping. Before you take it up (about 3 hours), add more butter and sprinkle on a little salt and parsley, shredded fine.

Send to table with a nice salad, and vegetables such as green peas, fresh beans, cauliflower, or asparagus. Mint Sauce 3/4 cup quality vinegar 1/4 cup water 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 cup mint leaves, crushed or chopped

The lamb should always be roasted and served with mint sauce in a boat. Chop mint small and mix with vinegar enough to make it liquid. Add water and sweeten with sugar. Green Peas 3 cups peas 3 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup melted butter Salt

When peas are shelled and water boils (which should not be much more than will cover them), put in with a few leaves of mint. As soon as they boil, put in piece of butter as big as a walnut (3 tablespoons), and stir them. When done enough, strain them off and sprinkle in a little salt; shake till water drains off.

Send hot to the table with melted butter in cup or boat. Salmagundi Anchovies, deboned and minced Chicken and/or turkey meat (white meat only), minced Hard-boiled egg whites, chopped finely Hard-boiled egg yolks, powdered Parsley, chopped very fine Ham, minced Celery (inner stalks only), minced 1 egg, beaten and seasoned with salt and


Center small bowl upside down on large dish. Build salad from outside of dish to top of bowl in concentric rings, each ring consisting of one ingredient. Garnish with sliced, hard-boiled eggs and with fresh, whole parsley. Put a little pyramid of butter on top and use beaten egg as dressing. -30-{et

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to An Old Salem Christmas
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today