A Christmas Lesson For All Seasons
When darkness comes, glimmers of hope mean the world to us. The Moravians, a lesser known,
communally focused sect of Christians, light beeswax candles as a symbol of hope during the
Christmas Eve love feast. Lights are dimmed. Candles beam. A child sings the traditional Morning
Star song, perched up in front of the congregation, who, like adoring parents, respond to the lyrics.
Sopranos and altos soar with tenors and basses: “Fill my heart with light divine.” Finally, volunteers
carry trays of burning candles into the space. The sight is spectacular, and the story of the Moravian
Christmas candle is even more inspiring.
The 1700s in Germany, and throughout the world, were filled with chaos. Religious and political
strife ran free. One Christmas, tragedy struck Gnadenhuetten. People were massacred, farms
burned. It seemed impossible to remember that a religious holiday had happened at all. Yet, as they
saw it, the candles brought purity to an otherwise polluted place. That’s because the Moravians
regarded beeswax as the purest of all animal or vegetable waxes.
The candle service that evolved spread across the Atlantic. Its first recorded instance “in the New
World” was in 1756, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – now known as the Christmas City. Here, Bishop
Peter Boehler felt moved by the experience… after his return from Europe where there was so little
apparent hope. That night was “long to be remembered as a bright hour in the midst of a dark
time.” Voices sang to celebrate the holiday, even in times of peril. More than 250 candles shone
through the darkness as they sang the closing hymn.
Their hearts burned brightly; and a few years later, the Moravian children of North Carolina skipped
home with candles, still burning, to light their Christmas trees. Now people of all ages engage in the
tradition. Each church determines the size of the candle and how it is trimmed. Yet the
commonality is in the message – hope. The Moravian Christmas candle marks the start of a new
chapter. It is a symbol of light’s power to overcome the darkness.