Old Salem, North Carolina, follows the Christmas traditions of the Moravians from 1753 when the first settlers arrived in this state. These German-speaking Protestants were the first to settle on a 100,000- acre tract they had bought. On November 17, only fifteen colonists founded Bethabara. After walking for six, long weeks from Pennsylvania, they celebrated their safe journey with a simple meal and a love feast.
The Moravian Minister, Reverend Berhard Adam Grube, described their celebration, “While we held our lovefeast, the wolves howled loudly, but all was well with us and our hearts were full of Thanksgiving to the Savior who had so graciously guided us and led us.”
This simple tradition celebrated unity, liberty, and love for the participants, and these are still the characteristics of what a love feast today continues to commemorate. Since all people are welcome to participate, the unity of Christians is affirmed. Since a simple repast is offered, a sense of large family occurs, as both strangers, friends, and family break bread together. The lighted beeswax candles remind all of the light of Jesus’ love. Red, ruffled ribbons were added to symbolize the lighting of a new flame in the hearts of all the worshippers. Scripture readings, prayers, hymn-singing, the lighting of candles, and the serving of Moravian buns and coffee comprise the parts of this service.
Today, this simple meal is served by the women in the church; they are called dieners, a German word for servants. They pass large baskets of yeast buns, just like they are collection plates. Dressed inlong white aprons, the men carry heavy trays of coffee to each row. A unique fellowship in the church family happens with this sharing.A grace was prayed in unison. “Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be, And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee. Amen” is the customary Moravian prayer.
Decorating, then and today, is with live greenery, candles, and creches. On Christmas Eve, there is a love feast at the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem, and they light twenty dozen candles for a soft glow. The candlelight slows down the senses and focuses thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas. It is the birthday of the Light of the World.
The Women’s Fellowship of Home Moravian Church puts together and hosts Candle Tea at the Single Brother’s House each year. Both visitors and residents view it as the very beginning of the Advent and Christmas season. Simple costumes are worn by the hosts and hostesses.
Several years ago, my husband John and I enjoyed aCandle Tea in Old Salem, NC. I can still taste that sweet, hot, milky coffee and the Moravian sugar cake that was served. It was melt-in-my-mouth delicious! Though sharing this time of fellowship with complete strangers, we exchanged smiles and sighs of pleasure.
We also sang Christmas carols to the accompaniment of the 1797 Tannenberg organ, viewed the putz/miniature village replica of early Salem and a Nativity scene of hand-carved characters, and listened to the Christmas story.
As I absorbed this time in the Single Brothers’ House, I was as wide-eyed as any child and walked out of the building looking up to the grandeur of a starry night. Once again, Christmas caught me.
Food brings friends, families, and communities together. Whether it is a holiday meal where many contribute or a shared cup of hot tea with ginger snaps for dipping between two friends, the time is about fellowship and remembrance. In the South, both are vital.
Religion and community life blended together on the same path in a Moravian community in early America. Their old-style love feasts have stood the test of time.
There are recipes available for you to bake your own sugar cake. Or you might want to know that Winkler’s Bakery in Old Salem will ship you one or two.
It is the season to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
by Sheila Ingle
"Sheila Ingle’s husband John was brought up in Ingle Holler in Union, South Carolina, with eight other Ingle families. They worked together in the mills, shared their gardens, attended church, and enjoyed the playing and singing of the songs from the Grand Ole Opry. When five of the brothers went off to war, those who couldn’t fight took care of their families. The Ingles stuck together, just like they were taught in the Appalachian hills of Erwin, Tennessee.
Love of God, love of family, and love of country were modelled in each home. In fact, one year Make Ingle put his sons and grandsons together to build Hillside Baptist Church. Adults kept up with the newspapers and the radios; world happenings were important. Any type of sickness brought a barrage of soup and cornbread,because children still had to eat.
On those twenty acres, the children played in the creek, cowboys and Indians, and hide-and-seek. They built their own wagons and sleds to race down the hill on the dry, hickory leaves. All the boys learned to shoot a .22 caliber, and John’s mother Lois could light a match with her shots.
Living in Ingle Holler was home, where each one was accepted."
A graduate of Converse College with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Sheila Ingle is a lifelong resident of S.C.
Her published books, Courageous Kate, Fearless Martha, Brave Elizabeth, and Walking withEliza focus on the bravery of Patriot women living in Revolutionary War South Carolina.Tales of a Cosmic Possum, not only shares Ingle family history, but also South Carolina and cotton mill history.
Serving on the board for eight years of Children’s Security Blanket (a 501c3 organization that serves families that have children with cancer), she is the Board Chairman. She is also a member of Chapter D PEO, where she served as vice president and chaplain; Circle 555(a local women’s giving group), where she has served on the grant committee; and a board member of Spartanburg County Historical Association, serving on the Walnut Grove Committee.
In her church, First Baptist Spartanburg, she was a Sunday School teacher for the youth for fourteen years, served as a discipleship leader for girls, and as chaperone for retreats. Besides leading a women’s Bible study for twenty-seven years, she has substituted as an adult teacher. For five years, she led the women’s ministry of her church.
Married for thirty-eight years to John Ingle, they have one son Scott. Besides being avid readers, the South Carolina beaches are their favorite spots for vacations.
Facebook: Sheila Ingle, Author