About the Moravian Star
The Moravian star has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Moravian Church. Thousands of Moravian stars in many sizes decorate homes and churches during the Advent and Christmas seasons, and they have become an ecumenical tradition. It is properly displayed from the first Sunday in Advent (the fourth Sunday before Christmas) until the Festival of Epiphany (January 6). The Moravian star is a reminder of the celestial star that led the Wise Men from their home in the distant east to Bethlehem, where they presented gifts to the Christ Child. It also symbolizes the Christ Child himself of whom the Old Testament prophesied, “A star shall come out of Jacob,” (Numbers 24:17). As early as 1747 there is mention of colored stars that were lighted in windows of buildings in the Moravian community of Herrnhaag, Germany. Nothing is known about the size, shape, or colors of these stars, but they illustrate the Moravian fondness for celebration and decoration.
Moravian stars were traditionally made in Moravian boarding schools in the 19th century during the Advent season. Because of this historians have assumed that the making of stars may have been a math lesson where students learned to draw and make geometrical shapes from paper. One of the shapes was a pyramid. By gluing the pyramids together a multi-pointed star was created.
The earliest written record of the star is in December 1820 from the Diary of George Friedrich Bahnson (1805–1869) who was a student at the boarding school in Niesky, Germany. On December 27th, he described a visit that he and his fellow students made to the Brethren’s House: “In the afternoon we all drank and like yesterday, some of us went to see the star in the Brethren’s House of 110 points, made by Madsen.” It was described as a multicolored paper star that was made as a Christmas decoration for the Single Brethrens’ House in Niesky by Christian Madsen (1800–1879). He was born in Herrnhut, Germany, and lived and worked in Niesky as a young man and no doubt lived in the Brethren’s House. This impressive star was also included the next month, January 1821, in the festive decorations for the 50th anniversary of the Niesky boarding school. There is a connection to Salem, NC, because the writer of the diary, Georg Bahnson, was called to America in 1829. He served as minister in the North Carolina congregations of Salem and Bethania and in the Pennsylvania congregations of Bethlehem and Lancaster. He died in Salem in 1869.
As the demand for stars grew in the 19th century, entrepreneurial Moravians began to commercially produce them, and in 1897 Pieter Hendrik Verbeek began the serial production of stars in Herrnhut. He later patented his idea of connecting the points by sliding them into a prefabricated metal framework. Thus, after the holiday season, the stars could be easily disassembled for storage. His son Harry founded the Herrnhut Star Factory in Herrnhut, Germany, where the stars are still made by hand. Since 1991, the company has traded under the name “Herrnhutter Sterne GmGH.”
Moravian stars continue to be a popular Advent, Christmas and Epiphany decoration throughout the world. Large Advent stars shine in the dome of the Frauenkirche in Dresden and over the altar of the Thomaskirche where Johann Sebastian Bach is buried in Leipzig. The city of Winston-Salem incorporates white Moravian stars into the official street decorations. In addition, a 31-foot illuminated Moravian star, one of the largest in the world, sits on the roof of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It has 27 points, weighs 3,400 pounds and takes eleven employees up to eight hours to put the star together.