The Moravian Star—a Christmas Tradition

“Philosophy [i.e. natural philosophy] is written in this grand book — I mean the Universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.”

Galilei, Galileo. “The Assayer.” In Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, translated by Stillman Drake (1957), pp. 237-8.

Stars. A symbol of Christmas representing light and peace. One that comes to my mind is the Moravian star. Did you know it was a geometry lesson at a boy’s school in Niesky, Germany that is credited for constructing the first Moravian Star? 

A couple of years ago, my daughter and I had the opportunity to travel to Niesky, a lovely village, to walk its streets, to visit the church, and to view the Star that is displayed from Advent to Epiphany. There is a connection that takes place when you visit the setting of a story that has been shared with you.

If you’re a historical researcher, you won’t be surprised that we wanted to go to the source of modern production, Herrnhuter Schauwerkstatt und Manufaktur, located in Herrnhut, Germany. There we enjoyed a tour of the factory. We learned that making Moravian Stars was a pre-Christmas activity for families as well as students. Congregations would also construct them. The Moravians created a word for this activity. They called the activity “Sterneln,” which translates to “making stars.”

The business of Moravian Stars began about 1900. The paper stars were modified with a tin frame that would allow it be disassembled for compact storage. The basic Moravian Star is produced from a truncated cuboctahedron with 17 four-cornered pyramid-shaped tips and eight three-cornered tetrahedron shaped tips. The 26th face provides an opening for lighting. I have found that there is nothing like an original Star. This year the factory prepared advent calendars for families to enjoy assembling a star together once again. It’s part of our Christmas present.

This year Thomas McCullough, assistant archivist at the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, presented a webinar about the history of the Moravian Star. I thought you might enjoy viewing it this holiday season. 

Note: If you would like to purchase one of these stars in the U.S., the Moravian Archives sells the stars manufactured in Herrnhutt. This year a portion of the proceeds from sales provides for the much-needed restoration of a significant painting, a portrait of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf as a child with his parents. You can also contribute directly to the restoration project. These links are for your convenience only, not affiliate links. 

© 2020 Lynn Broderick, a.k.a., the Single Leaf. All Rights Reserved.

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