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This past week, our family had the cherished opportunity to host a Moravian-inspired Christmas lovefeast in our home. I want to share the story behind what prompted us to plan this celebration, as well as what we did and how we did it. Due to the length of this post, I have broken it up into sections to which you can jump to if you desire to skip over the backstory.
What is a Lovefeast?
1: a meal eaten in common by a Christian congregation in token of brotherly love
2: a gathering held to promote reconciliation and good feeling or show someone affectionate honor
Studying United States History
As part of homeschooling my children, we are doing an overly-thorough and slow study of American history. We began this study in June of 2020, filling our home with picture books, novels, YouTube videos, and audiobooks as we have immersed ourselves in this study. We also try to experience history in hands-on ways, such as two trips (so far) to Colonial Williamsburg, a field trip to Fort Dobbs, watching a battlefield reenactment at Historic Brattonsville, and so much more.
Historic Brattonsville, SC – July 2021 Reenactment of Battle of Huck’s Defeat
Meeting Christian Historical Author & Living Historian Geoff Baggett at Historic Brattonsville:
This year, we have been spiraling our way through the period from 1690 to 1770. We spent the better part of the summer and fall studying the life of young George Washington and the role that the French and Indian War (or the Seven-Years War as it was called in Europe) had in the formation of our country.
Studying the Moravians
Falling in the middle of this time period, a small sect of Christians known as the Moravians began to settle in the colonies in search of religious liberty. After unsuccessful settlements in Georgia and New York, the early Moravians found their home in Pennsylvania and here where we live in North Carolina.
As we have lived in this area of North Carolina since 2013, I’ve maintained a general awareness of these sites and the Moravian traditions they embody for quite some time. We have made a tradition of having our family photographs taken at Historic Bethabara. We’ve had four photoshoots there now, including the moment we told Ezra he was going to be a big brother, Little Brother’s maternity photos, and our most recent photos (some of which you can see on our home page).
So while Bethabara particularly held a significant emotional place in my heart, I was pretty well removed from its historical significance.
It wasn’t until I returned from our second trip to Colonial Williamsburg that I realized the immense value that living historical sites can have in the lives of children. I also somehow managed to go five years at our church before realizing that our ministry pastor’s wife works as a 3rd-person interpreter at Historic Old Salem.
When I began to realize what a wealth of historical experience I had literally at my fingertips (or shall I say a few miles down the road), I purposed to utilize what I had to teach my children.
“Let the main object of this…be as follows: to seek and to find a method of instruction by which teachers may teach less, but learners may learn more…”
Experiencing Living Moravian History
In September, I bought an annual pass to Old Salem and began making regular trips there with the boys. We also visited Bethabara for several living history events. I met with our ministry pastor’s wife to talk with her about how we could make the most of what was available, given the soft and slow reopening progress they are doing at Old Salem due to the pandemic.
What I appreciate about having these sites closeby is that we are able to visit for an hour or two and build up our knowledge over time, rather than trying to absorb it all in a short period of time (such as when we have made trips to Colonial Williamsburg). So we aren’t pressed for time.
The boys have been able to experience history in a very hands-on way, thanks to the patience and willingness of the staff at these historic sites:
It’s been such a joy to watch both of my boys excitedly enjoy learning about history. I feel that the things we are learning go far beyond facts, and have found a place deep in our hearts.
Enjoying Moravian Christmas Traditions
Moravian Christmas traditions have saturated our area by osmosis, even among those who are not Moravian. Everything from stars to ginger cookies to sugar cakes are commonplace at this time of year. I’ve been hearing people rave about annually attending the Home Moravian Candle Tea for years. But, as stated above, I had never really taken the time to personally enjoy any of these things, until this year.
By the time the Christmas season came upon us, I had a much better basic understanding of Moravian history in our area. I felt that this was a year we could really enjoy some of those traditions in our own family. We began with two trips to Old Salem where they were holding “Salem Saturdays at Christmas,” which are full of “simple, yet meaningful Christmas traditions as found in 18th and 19th century Salem, North Carolina.”
We came home that afternoon and the boys had the opportunity to make their own putz. Full disclosure, this ended in disaster (both in the mess it made and the stress it produced), but we tried!
The next week, we went back for the highly-anticipated Candle Tea. Normally held as an indoor event, this year was different due to Covid protocols. The weather was a balmy 70 degrees, which resulted in a huge turnout. We found the entire day to be quite overwhelming due to the long lines, noise, and overall bustle. I admit I was overwhelmed and disappointed in how little we were actually able to experience.
From the beginning, the small, lighted candles distributed to Moravians in America were made from beeswax. Beeswax, considered the purest of all animal or vegetable waxes, suggested the purity of Christ. The candle, giving its life as it burned, suggested the sacrifice of the sinless Christ for sinful humanity.
Over time greater emphasis came to be placed upon the candle as representing Christ, the Light of the world and the light shed by the burning candle…
The two things I was able to accomplish during these stressful trips to Old Salem were purchasing baking mixes and Christingle kits for our own celebrations. Which leads me to our lovefeast.
Preparing for Our Family Lovefeast
Another Moravian tradition (that happens not just at Christmas time) is that of the lovefeast, which was defined above. In our area, lovefeasts at Moravian churches are open to the public, and many non-Moravians attend. Our ministry pastor’s wife encouraged me to attend one with the boys, but I became hesitant.
First, going anywhere new with these children where certain kinds of behavior are expected is a big risk. Second, many of these lovefeasts take place later in the evening (7PM or 7:30PM), which is quite late for my boys to be out and behave well. Finally, the traditional lovefeast includes lovefeast buns that were made with egg ingredients, to which Ezra is allergic.
I disappointedly decided to pass on attending a local lovefeast service, but in that same moment I was inspired to put on our OWN lovefeast in our home. I texted our ministry pastor’s wife and enlisted her and her husband’s help in hosting this for my boys.
I scoured the library for resources, and found several books that made perfect source texts for what to do and how to do it.
As a family, we began reading a novel called The Christmas Surprise by Ruth Nulton Moore. (We haven’t finished it yet, but so far it has been really good.)
We also read the picture book An Old Salem Christmas, 1840 by Karen Cecil Smith, which “tells the story of Christmas celebration in historic Salem, North Carolina, as seen through the eyes of a young Moravian girl.”
I used the book The Christmas Heritage of Old Salem to create an order of service, which I formatted onto individual cards that we would read before and after our lovefeast meal. These cards contained basic historical tidbits about the lovefeast, lyrics to hymns traditionally sung at the lovefeast, and Scripture verses.
The order of service and cards are available free here:
I bought an authentic Moravian advent wreath from Salem Candleworks, and a Moravian star decoration and egg-free ginger cookies from Dewey’s Bakery. I bought Colonial Coffee, a lovefeast bun mix, and a sugar cake mix from Winkler Bakery in Old Salem. For dinner, I prepared frozen Moravian Chicken Pies from Mrs. Pumpkins.
The day of our lovefeast was long and a lot of work. I figured since I had bought mixes to make the sugarcake and the lovefeast buns, that preparations wouldn’t take that long. I underestimated how long it takes to make things with yeast involved! Also, I learned that applesauce is NOT an acceptable egg substitute in these sort of recipes (as it is in baked breads and muffins). Thankfully, I had bought two mixes of lovefeast buns and made them separately. The first mix I used I ended up adding flax and some gluten free pancake mix just to get it to hold together. (The other mix I used Neat Egg and it worked splendidly!)
Ezra helped by laminating all of our lovefeast cards and name place cards. Yes he’s in a pajama shirt and shorts, but I was in pajamas until 3pm so I’m not one to judge!
I “helped” the boys make their Christingles, using the kits we had purchased at the Home Moravian Candle Tea.
An orange is used to represent the world.
A trimmed candle is inserted in the top of the orange, symbolizing Jesus as the Light of the World. The red ruffle symbolizes Jesus’ love for us.
Four sticks (toothpicks) inserted in the orange mean the Light of Christ is to spread to all four corners of the world. Four can also refer to the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Gumdrops and raisins represent the goodness that entered the world with Jesus’ birth. They may also symbolize all of God’s creation.
~The Christingle, kit instructions from Home Moravian Church
We moved our dining room table into our living room / school room to accommodate our guests (11 in total!) Everything was ready (mostly) on time. I had a CD of Moravian Christmas music called Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers playing in the background.
Sharing Our Family Lovefeast
Everything went smoothly and how I had envisioned it going. We all gathered around the table and read the first group of cards. Then we stopped and each person shared something for which they were thankful.
After that, we prayed and ate. (Full disclosure, my kids ate chicken nuggets and baby carrots!)
Then we lit the candles, turned off the music, and resumed the reading of the cards. Many of the cards contained lyrics to the hymns that are traditionally sung at the lovefeast. I felt like this variation was possibly even more impactful, as each person (from my small children to our pastor) was able to add their own inflection as they read, calling attention to words of worship that might have otherwise been overlooked.
I had asked our ministry pastor if he would spend about five minutes sharing whatever God impressed upon him to share. As he has participated in many such celebrations throughout the years, he was able to deliver a message (in colonial costume!) that he would normally have used when speaking to children at an actual lovefeast. It was apropos, accessible, and otherwise perfect.
Our senior pastor offered a final prayer, and then we all had dessert of Moravian sugar cake and cookies.
It was short, sweet, and beautiful.
I only took a few pictures, which means I have less to share. However, I don’t regret being fully present in the moment and experiencing it all (mostly) technology-free.
Personal Reflections and Acknowledgements
As an introvert, hospitality doesn’t always come easy to me. As host of this event, I was very much focused on the execution and management of it all. I was also carrying around some anxiety about whether my kids and husband were going to be able to handle having a house full of people without someone having a meltdown or a panic attack. But as I moved through the tasks I needed to accomplish, I was still experiencing it all very deeply.
I’ve now had a few days to reflect on the event, but I’m still struggling to find the words to explain what it meant to me.
While it started out as a homeschooling project, it became so much more – and probably means more to me than it meant to anyone else in the room.
Six of the individuals present (my in-laws, our senior pastor and his wife, and our ministries pastor and his wife) have poured into our lives so much, especially over the last six years. So sharing in this time with them was extra precious.
They have given to us over and over. We are not the easiest family to love, but they have have seen us at our worst and kept loving us anyways. They have provided for us. They have shepherded us. They have cared for us. Our pastors have been strong father-figures to Russ and I and grandfather-figures to our children. These are the men who have sat across our kitchen table and listened to our struggles in our faith, our parenting, and our marriage. They visited me in the hospital when I was septic from a kidney infection. They brought meals when I broke my leg. They helped Ezra succeed in classes when other churches would have blamed us for being bad parents, up to having extra meetings with us to ask how they could help. Our ministry pastor’s wife has spent several years as the Sunday School teacher to each of our boys. Our pastor’s wife was someone texting me and praying for me when I was in labor with Little Brother, although she had known me for only five weeks at the time.
As I’ve stepped into the role of church pianist this year, they have been there to pick up the slack and help care for my kids during practice times and sit with them during services, allowing me to follow my passions and giftings.
More than all of that, they have taught our family the truth about God’s grace and how to live in that grace.
This year is the first time I’ve felt capable of giving back to them. While I don’t know that I was able to express that fully the night of our lovefeast, I’m expressing it now publicly to Steve & Sandy, Rich & Andrea, and Dwight & Susan. You have my undying love and gratitude. I’m so glad we were able to share our family lovefeast with you.