On a snowy Christmas Eve over three
hundred years ago, Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians,
took shelter in the little town's one log dwelling. Noting that
humans and beasts shared the same roof, as they had on that first
Christmas in Bethlehem in Judea, the Count snatched up his candle
and led the way to the stable, singing:
As the strains of the Moravian hymn
died away, he turned to his followers and said, "The name of this
place is Bethlehem." It has been ever since.
Moravians have always been devout,
and through many years and troubled times their faith has expressed
itself in kindly hospitality in the name of Christ as well as in
worship of Him. From their earliest days in the wilderness the
Moravians have offered food and shelter to all comers, whether they
were Indians, Revolutionary soldiers, or the Marquis de Lafayette.
And because Christmas is the climax of their year, generations of
Bethlehem housewives have toiled long and lovingly to make the
Christmas holidays memorable.
There is much visiting around at
Christmas time in Bethlehem, and Bethlehem still is hospitable. Thus
cakes and wine are frequently brought forth and the Moravians have
developed Christmas cookies to superlative perfection.
Recipes for the
famous Moravian cakes and cookies are passed from family to family,
just as the same cookie cutters have been preserved from
days and are still in use. The shape of a Moravian cookie is a
reasonably indication of its content, since probably it has been
made in the same shape with the same ingredients for a century or
It is true that some modern
innovations may have made their way into the Christmas cookie field,
but it would be considered a shabby household in Bethlehem that must
resort to brownies or hermits for Christmas, when there are so many
traditional recipes that are intricate and delicious. There used to
be a saying in Bethlehem that you could estimate not only the
housewife's culinary skill but the family's financial status from
the quantity and variety of its Christmas cookies!
also the home of the Putz. Every family has a creche, as
elaborate and detailed as can be contrived, to place under the
Christmas tree. This Nativity scene, deriving from the German word
putzen, to decorate, has been shortened in Pennsylvania Dutch to
Putz and has come to mean
whatever-decorates-the-space-under-the-Christmas-tree. It is
particularly a creche, but the term may include a toy village or an
electric train, if the family wishes to elaborate. Putzing-visiting
around to see the Putzes-is a Bethlehem holiday custom.
It is also the occasion for the appearance of the holiday cookies
and for general good will.
Bethlehem's loveliest Christmas
custom by far is its candle-lighting service. This is beautiful and
deeply religious. Anyone who has ever seen how myriads of twinkling
candles can light a darkened church, who has whiffed the mingled
odors of beeswax and balsam, who has followed antiphonally a small
girl's singing of "Morning Star, O cheering sight ..." has
experienced one of the most moving Christmas services in the world.
Then, when he has passed through the
shining, candlelit gantlet of his singing neighbors and gone forth
into the snowy evening, he has been truly in Bethlehem at Christmas.