Ponderings: A different view of Christmas

At this time of year, my thoughts, like most Moravians, turn to the joy of Advent and Christmas.  In a few short weeks, we will be celebrating the coming of our newborn King, with all the wonderful traditions of a Moravian Christmas.

But as I prepared to make ready for the season this year, I thought back to what my Christmases were like before I joined the Moravian Church…before I assumed my role with the Interprovincial Board of Communications.  And I must say, things were quite different back then.

Don’t get me wrong – Christmas has almost always been a joyous time for my family and me.  Our traditions centered around planning travel to see family and friends, decorating the house and getting the shopping done, deciding when we would watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Muppet Christmas Carol,” and figuring out the Christmas dinner menu (my daughter is vegetarian…). And while we kept Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth, for many years, religious services weren’t part of our December.

As a child, my parents took me to a Christmas Eve mass (or when I was a bit older, Midnight Mass) at our Catholic church. But as a young adult and beyond, I rarely made church part of my Christmas celebrations. The only time I went to mass at Christmas was when I was visiting my mom and dad and they wanted to go.

But all that changed about nine Christmases ago, after I joined the IBOC.  Christmas hasn’t been the same since…and in a good way!  For someone like me who had been “away from the church” for a long time, the traditions and spirituality that come from celebrating this time of year among Moravian Christians is truly special.

First, working in the Moravian Church Center and preparing articles for my first Christmas edition of the Moravian put the Christian celebration of Advent and Christmas front and center for me. For so many years, the focus was on more secular aspects of the holiday season. 

I began to notice many homes in Bethlehem (where I had been living since 1995) were decked out with many pointed stars (I thought they looked like the special craft in which the baby Superman traveled to Earth). I soon understood the significance of the star, and today my home has a Moravian star on the porch year-round.

We attended services throughout Advent, hearing about the coming of our bright Morning Star.  Each week at my local congregation, I learned something new about our preparation for Jesus’ birth.

Edgeboro is steeped in Moravian holiday traditions. I watched as the candle making team expertly molded thousands of beeswax candles. The smell of beeswax has become one of my favorites, and even if I catch a whiff in the middle of the summer, I think of Christmas.

I also learned more about a Moravian Putz. Before joining the church, I wondered why Moravians were promoting what to my New York upbringing signified a not-so-bright person (it’s all in how you pronounce the “u”).  After watching a group of Edgeboro folk create the miniature landscape that tells the story of Christ’s birth, I’ll never confuse the two again.

And throughout that first Advent, I heard more and more about the wonder of a Christmas Eve Lovefeast. Everyone I talked with spoke with reverence and a wistful air about what I would experience during the candle-lit service. 

When Christmas Eve finally rolled around, my family and I walked the few short blocks to my new church. Joining a church packed with smiling families, with glorious Moravian music, food in the middle of the service (at Edgeboro, it was sugar cookies and chocolate milk) served by deiners (servers) in white, then joining in the singing of “Morningstar, O Cheering Sight…” while holding a lighted beeswax candle left me with such a feeling that I couldn’t wait for the next Christmas.

While these treasured traditions make celebrating Christmas a moving experience, something more important happened to me as I experienced my first Moravian Christmas: joining the church brought Christ back into Christmas for me. 

In the past nine years, I’ve studied the history and experienced many of the traditions of our church and can now write about them with some expertise. While Christmas still means family, friends, decorating, shopping, and, of course, feasting, after that first Moravian Christmas season, the holiday means so much more. 

In this issue of the Moravian, we’re focusing on Christmas. We looked to our past to find writings that still ring true today. We highlight different ways of reaching out at Christmas time.  And we share the Christmas Liturgy from our Moravian Book of Worship as a reminder of what our faith is all about.  I hope you enjoy this edition.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Peace,

Mike Riess
Editor, The Moravian Magazine