History of the Moravian Star
December 12 , 2008
Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
During the holiday season, many families decorate their homes with a Moravian star. While these unique multi-pointed stars are beautiful, they also have a rich history.
The Moravian Church began as a Protestant denomination in Bohemia and Moravia during the late 14th century. Jan Hus, founder of the Moravian movement, rejected the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to return to simpler religious practices. Hus was eventually tried by the Church and burned at the stake in 1415. Nearly 50 years later, a group of Hus’s followers organized themselves into the “Unity of Brethren” or the “Bohemian Brethren” to continue to rebel against the Catholic Church. (Interestingly, Jan Hus and his followers attempted to reform the Catholic Church one hundred years before Martin Luther.)
For centuries, the members of the Bohemian Brethren were forced into hiding, until nobleman Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf allowed the group to settle on his lands in 1722. The Brethren established a small village known as Herrnhut (present day Saxony) where the group, along with Count Zinzendorf, worked to create an accepting community. Herrnhut rapidly became the center for the Moravian movement, and the name itself translates into “the Lord’s Watch,” where residents were to watch for God as God was to watch out for them.
The Moravian star originated in Saxony, Germany, in the two towns of Niesky and Kleinwalka in the 1830s. The stars were used as craft projects to help demonstrate geometry lessons to young boys attending Moravian school. The stars were quickly adopted by the Moravian Church as a symbol of the birth of Jesus and represented the star of Bethlehem. Traditionally, the star is hung the first Sunday of Advent and remains up until Epiphany, January 6, or the time of the coming of the Magi.
In 1880, Pieter Verbeek, a graduate of the Moravian boys school in Niesky, opened a small bookstore where he began to sell the Stars. Pieter’s son, Harry, improved his father’s business and opened a star factory in Herrnhut, Germany. Through the Herrnhut Star Factory, the Verbeeks were able to mass-produce Moravian stars and the directions for making them, and they exported these products to America and other countries. Because of the popularity of the star designs, the Herrnhut Star Factory began printing directions for making Moravian stars in four different languages.
The first documented Christmas tree at Williamsburg, Virginia, was decorated with Moravian stars in 1842 by a German immigrant who taught at the College of William and Mary.
The Herrnhut Star Factory continued to be successful until World War II, when the Soviet army burned down the structure. In the 1950s, the factory was run for a short time by the East German government until they transferred ownership of the factory to the Moravian Church.
Moravian stars range from six points to over 100, but the traditional Moravian star has 26 points. Today, the Abraham Durninger Company in Herrnhut, Germany, continues the time-honored custom of selling hand-make Moravian stars from their factory. Many innovations in the styles, sizes, and colors of the stars have been created over the years. From lighted to unlighted, large to small and white to red, the Moravian star continues to represent the holiday season for all.