We all have our own ways of picturing Christmas in our heads. For some, it’s baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary, Joseph and a cast of animals, shepherds and kings. For others, Christmas imagery is Santa on a massive sleigh, his reindeer guiding the way. And for still others, it’s a scene of bringing the fresh-cut tree to the glowing cottage on an idyllic New England winter’s eve.
But since I began working with the Moravian Church, I have been drawn to two images of Advent and Christmas: the many-pointed Moravian star and the traditional beeswax candle. Within those stars and candles—and all of their symbolism and beauty—I see Christmas.
So when it came time to work on some new Christmas-themed bulletin covers for congregations to use for their Christmas services, those two subjects naturally came to mind. We’ve used these symbols before; the IBOC has offered bulletin covers with stars and candles for years.
As supplies of some older designs ran low, I wanted to keep the same subjects, but give them new life with new art. It was time to create some new images. Getting those images was going take some creativity, a dark room, a steady hand (or in my case, a steady tripod), patience, assistance and a little luck.
When the day came for our photo shoot, Renee and I went to the basement of the church center, a windowless place where I could control how much—or how little—light I wanted. We rounded up both large and small beeswax candles molded at Edgeboro Moravian Church in Bethlehem, a paper Moravian Star from Herrnhutter Sterne in Germany (by way of the Moravian Archives, which sells them), dark and light cloths for back drops, extension cords, a lighter and my camera gear.
To replace our old star bulletin, I envisioned an illuminated star against a colorful background. Several years ago, I found that photographing Christmas tree lights out of focus made for a colorful, dreamy image. I had several of these photos that I had taken on slide film (yes, I still shoot slides once in a while), one of which would work perfectly.
To create the new Advent Star bulletin, we used an old slide projector to project the unfocused colored light slide onto a white background. We then hung the illuminated paper star in front of the background, being careful not to get the slide image on the star or a star shadow on the background. It took about 30 tries (thank goodness for digital cameras!), but at last we got just the right angle.
Next came the single candle. We decided to go for a very simple image of a lit candle on a pure black background. We used the illuminated star as our main light source and an electric candle (the kind we put in our windows at Christmastime) to add some fill. Then, by adjusting the camera’s aperture, we were able to generate a star “burst” around the candle flame. Two down.
But we didn’t stop there. I learned early on that you don’t put the camera away until you’ve tried different points of view. We took several shots of the candles and stars together (nothing was really working for us), several shots with multiple candles (again, nothing we were happy with), a hand holding a single candle (that one worked; see the cover of this issue) and finally decided to try one last idea.
Setting a single lit large candle in front of a rack of unlit candles, I had Renee reach into the photo to light a smaller candle. We caught just the right moment as the flame transferred and we knew we had a winner.
Once we selected and edited our favorite images, I laid out the bulletin covers with new type, using the text that we’d used on our two old designs. But since we had three shots we wanted to turn into bulletins, we needed new text for the image of the candle lighting.
We tried a few Bible verses; again, nothing jumped out. Then it hit me: when do we see lit candles in Christmas Eve Lovefeasts? When we sing “Morning Star, O Cheering Sight!” The last line fit perfectly: “Fill my heart with light divine.”
We made these new designs available in the first week of Advent, so they may not have made it to your church in time for this Christmas. However, as future Christmases come, we hope you find these images of the holiday as touching and meaningful as we do. And over these holidays, I encourage you to take some of your own photos of what Christmas looks like in your part of the Moravian world.
Have a blessed Christmas, with best wishes for the new year.
Mike Riess, Editor, The Moravian Magazine