Moravian star

Moravian Stars and Cookies

My spirits brighten when I see the many symbols and lights at this time of year. The multi-pointed Moravian Star is one such symbol. The Moravians are a small Christian sect with roots dating back to Czech Reformer John Hus (1369 – 1415). Hus was martyred as a heretic. His writings had an enormous impact on Martin Luther. After reading some of Hus’ sermons, Luther wrote,  “I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.”

Like many bold men and women who challenge the injustices of their cultures, Hus was martyred for opposing the corruption in the church of his day. Though persecuted and exiled from their homeland, his faithful followers kept the church alive. They settled in Saxony, Germany, where Luther launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

Missionaries on the Move

The Moravians sent missionaries to many places, including Tuscarwas County in Northeast Ohio. My family lived there briefly and when we did, I worked for the outdoor drama Trumpet in the Land.  This Paul Green drama tells the story of Moravian missionaries who befriended Native Americans, hoping to convert them to Christianity.

Moravians are peace-loving, cheerful people who strive to live by the motto:  “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The quote is attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) and John Wesley (1703 – 1791), among others. This Christian community likes good food, good fellowship, and beautiful decorations. Moravian communities as far back as the mid-1700’s often displayed the pointed, lighted stars in home and shop windows.

Moravian Stars and Math Lessons

The Moravian star evolved from a math class where students were learning how to draw geometrical shapes, including the pyramid.  Boarding school students in Niesky, Germany practiced making various geometric shapes out of paper. The elongated pyramids apparently inspired the geometry teacher and students to glue their pyramids together, forming what has become the Moravian star.

Earlier versions of these stars came in many different colors. Today they are usually white or yellow. Moravian stars are simple and attractive ornaments, reflecting the Moravian sense of beauty.

Not Just for Moravians

Moravians adopted the star as one of their most cherished objects, but others also appreciate them. Though they were not originally intended as an Advent/Christmas decoration, that is when we’re most likely to see them. Every year thousands of stars shine into the darkness, symbolizing our anticipation that the light of hope will enter into the darkness. The points shine out in all directions, uniting us with people in all parts of the world.

Moravian Cookies

My collection of church cookbooks includes one I picked up from Moravian neighbors when I lived in Ohio. Here’s a cookie recipe from the Moravian cookbook produced by the Women’s Fellowship of First Moravian Church in Dover, Ohio:

1 cup white sugar; 1 cup shortening; 1 cup molasses

Heat above ingredients until melted and add spices: 1 tsp. each ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg; ½ tsp. cloves; ¼ tsp. salt.

Let cool to touch. Add 1 level teaspoon soda dissolved in ¼ cup hot water. Stir well. Add flour to make a stiff dough. (About 5 cups). Set the dough in a cold place overnight. Roll paper thin. Use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees 6 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

More Light and Sweetness Needed

The past few years have been tough. They’ve been rough for my family, our country, and our global village. There’s no need to reiterate all the critically serious problems and conflicts confronting us day in and day out. I’m confident you are well aware of how terribly challenging life has been for many, many people. Rather, I hope this article about a group of peace-loving people inspires you to bake a batch of something sweet to savor and share.

Each of us has the capacity to be the light that infiltrates the darkness. I’ll sign off for now and bake a batch of Moravian cookies to distribute to neighbors and friends.

Join me in being a light shining in the dark.

Thank you for taking time to read about the Moravians. Share the story with a friend, or sign up for your free subscription at HowWiseThen. You can encourage someone going through the holiday season for the first time after the loss of a long-term partner with a copy of my deeply discounted novel Asunder. It will bring a little hope to the single-again people in your life. (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
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  1. We are Lutheran. We enjoyed a couple who attended our church for years. One day they mentioned that they were going to be moving to northcentral North Carolina, as they had discovered a Moravian colony there. They were both brought up in the Moravian church and this was just like going home to them! So there are pockets of practicing Moravians in the US.
    We still fondly remember them each Christmas as we put up the 2′ Moravian Star they gave us in our window!

  2. My sister lives in Winston-Salem where there is still a vibrant Moravian community, and one of my parents’ dearest friends grew up there. Besides introducing us to Moravian cookies and Moravian sugar cakes, she also taught us to hold hands around the dining room table for the blessing, and right after we said “Amen” we’d squeeze the hand of the person on either side. This, she taught us, was a way to say, “I love you.”

  3. Thank you dear friend of Elizabeth Herbert Cottrell. I have molasses for my gingerbread cake and would like to make a batch of cookies from you recipe during the holidays.

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