Moravian Christmas Traditions We Still Have Today

img_1022By Tamera Lynn Kraft

In my novella, A Christmas Promise, I write about Moravian missionaries in Schoenbrunn Village, circa 1773. The Moravians brought many Christmas traditions to America that we use to celebrate Christ’s birth today. Here are a few of them.

red room with christmas-tree and colorful gift - rendering

The Christmas Tree: Moravians brought the idea of decorating Christmas trees in their homes in the early 1700s, long before it became a popular tradition in the United States.

 

Illustration of Christmas candle lighted with wreath isolated on white background done in retro style.

Christmas Eve Candlelight Services: Most churches have Christmas Eve services where they sing Christmas carols and light candles to show Jesus came to be the light of the world. The Moravian Church has been doing that for centuries. They call their services lovefeasts because they also have a part of the service where they serve sweetbuns and coffee – juice for the kids – and share Christ’s love with each other. For candles, Moravians use bleached beeswax with a red ribbon tied around them. The white symbolizes the purity of Christ and red symbolizes that His blood was shed for us.

The Moravian Star: In the 1840s at a Moravian school, students made 24 point stars out of triangles for their geometry lessons. Soon those Moravian stars started making their way on the tops of Christmas trees. The star as a Christmas tree topper is still popular today.

The Putz: The putz is a Christmas nativity scene surrounded by villages or other Biblical scenes. Moravian children in the 1700s would make a putz to put under their Christmas tree. Today, nativity scenes and Christmas villages are popular decorations.

achristmaspromise_medA Christmas Promise

By Tamera Lynn Kraft

A Moravian Holiday Story, Circa 1773

During colonial times, John and Anna settle in an Ohio village to become Moravian missionaries to the Lenape. When John is called away to help at another settlement two days before Christmas, he promises he’ll be back by Christmas Day.

When he doesn’t show up, Anna works hard to not fear the worst while she provides her children with a traditional Moravian Christmas.

Through it all, she discovers a Christmas promise that will give her the peace she craves.

“Revel in the spirit of a Colonial Christmas with this achingly tender love story that will warm both your heart and your faith. With rich historical detail and characters who live and breathe on the page, Tamera Lynn Kraft has penned a haunting tale of Moravian missionaries who selflessly bring the promise of Christ to the Lenape Indians. A beautiful way to set your season aglow, A Christmas Promise is truly a promise kept for a heartwarming holiday tale.” – Julie Lessman

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Moravian Missionaries in Colonial Ohio

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Schoenbrunn Village

In the 1770s, Moravian missionaries moved to Ohio from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to settle a village called Schoenbrunn which means Beautiful Spring. Their goal was to bring the Gospel to the Delaware Indians. Delaware Native Americans who converted to Christianity moved into Schoenbrunn to be a part of the Christian community. Within a year, the village grew so large, they started another settlement called Gnadenhutten.

Schoenbrunn, in many ways, was ahead of its time. The settlers of the village, including the Delaware, created their own code of conduct and opened a school. The school taught both boys and girls when other colonial schools at the time only accepted boys. The students learned to read both English and Lenape out of a Bible that was translated in the Lenape language.

The Moravians built a church there with paintings on the walls depicting Biblical scenes. They used these painting to teach about the Bible. They had church every morning and twice on Sunday. On special occasions they would have Lovefeasts where they served coffee, juice, and sweet buns. The Christmas Eve Lovefeasts were the most special and became the forerunner of Christmas Eve candlelight services popular in the US.

The settlement only lasted a few years. When the Revolutionary War broke out, British troops suspected the Moravians of giving information to the colonial army. These charges against them were true. In 1781, Native Americans supporting the British forced the Moravians to relocate to the Sandusky area to protect themselves from reprisals. The British arrested the two leaders of the villages, took them to Detroit, and tried them for treason.

When a group of Christian Lenape went back to Gnadenhutten to harvest their crops, a company of Continental military from Pennsylvania accused them of raiding farms in Pennsylvania. and massacred them. The militia the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children and burned down the village.

Settlers were outraged by the massacre, but the men were never brought to trial. In 1810, Tecumseh reminded future President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Schoenbrunn Village is still open today for visitors and tourists to learn about Christian Native Americans and some of the earliest missionaries in America. A Christmas Promise was set in Schoenbrunn Village.

 

The Real History of the Pilgrims

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Thanksgiving is coming soon. There are many facts about America’s spiritual heritage ingrained in the Pilgrims and Puritans. These are some of the facts that children are not taught in school.

Most children are taught that pilgrims came to America to flee religious persecution. That’s not exactly true. Pilgrims and Puritans were persecuted for believing that Christians could have a personal relationship with Jesus separate from the Church of England. But they traveled to Holland to flee the persecution, not America.

So why did they travel to America? There were many reasons, but the main reason is they felt compelled by God to come to America and establish a colony of people that honored God. Many called this colony, New Jerusalem, believing that God had established this new land to spread the gospel to the world. William Bradford wrote in his journal that the motivation came from “a great hope for advancing the kingdom of Christ.”

Pilgrims and Puritans were not the same. Pilgrims were separatists who believed they should separate themselves for the Church of England and the world systems. Puritans believed in working within the system. When they came to America, Puritans wished to set up the government so that religious freedom of expression would be established. Pilgrims wanted freedom of religion so they were free to worship without fear of persecution. Both Pilgrims and Puritans wanted freedom of religion to protect the church from the government, not to protect the government from the church.

Many schools teach that Thanksgiving was a secular celebration. But letters written by the Pilgrims tell a different story. God was such a part of their everyday life that they included God in everything. One such letter states that Thanksgiving was a celebration called so that “God be praised” for what He had brought them through. John Winthrop called New England a City on a Hill in one of his sermon. He, as well as many other Puritans and Pilgrims, believed they had made a covenant with God to be a new nation that was a model of Christianity to the world.

William Bradford believed that America was called to spread the gospel to the world. Since the Pilgrims and Puritans came to America, the United States of America has sent missionaries to more nations and more remote places in the world than any other nation on Earth. Could it be they were right?

The Birth of the Protestant Reformation

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

The 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is tomorrow. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis entitled Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the church wall and sent a copy to his bishop. In these thesis, Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Pope when he conflicted with Scripture. He also challenged the church’s policy of selling indulgences. An indulgence was a absolution from sin given by a priest. Luther stood on the Scripture in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it isthe gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Many people today don’t understand the courage it took for Martin Luther to make his stand. He risked excommunication and could have been executed. A meeting was held at the Diet of Worms by a council of the church. Luther was threatened with excommunication if he did not recant. Surely Peter’s words to the Pharisees went through his mind as the challenge was issued. Did he obey the church or God?

This was Luther’s answer, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” He then his arm raised his arm “in the traditional salute of a knight winning a bout.”

Luther hid out after the meeting, fearing retaliation. During his sequester, he translated the New Testament into German. He was excommunicated and the Protestant Reformation was firmly under way. He spent the rest of his life preaching salvation by faith through faith. Luther wasn’t the best role model of a Christian. His anti-semitism and faulty doctrine left scars on his legacy, but he stood strong in the face of persecution.

Luther wasn’t the only reformer at the time in a sea of men and women who stood for the truth of Scripture and faced of persecution, imprisonment, and death. Through it all, the reformation led the world out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Science, art, and theology flourished. The Bible was translated into many European languages and the Gospel was spread throughout the known world.

How a Native American Brought the Great Awakening to the Indians

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Samson Occom, a native American born in a wigwam, became one of the first ordained Indian preachers, the first Native American to be published, and the only one to travel with Evangelist George Whitefield during the Great Awakening in America. He brought Christianity to the Indian tribes in his area of the country, yet most have never heard his story.

Samson was born in 1723 as part of the the Mohegan tribe near New London, Connecticut. His parents were Joshua and Sarah Ockham, direct descendants of Uncas, a famous Mohegan chief. At the age of 16, Occom heard his first sermon during the Great Awakening. His mother Sarah was one of the first Mohegan converts.

Samson was stirred by what he heard and began to study English so he could read the Bible for himself. A year later he became a Christian under the preaching of James Davenport. He started going to a school for Indians and white boys started by evangelist Eleazar Wheelock and spent four years at Wheelock’s school. He was a gifted student, but poor eyesight prevented him from going to college.

He taught school and ministered to the Montauk Indians for eleven years. He used many creative methods including singing and card games as teaching devices. When Azariah Horton, the white Presbyterian minister to the Montauk, retired, Samson took his place as pastor.

Samson married Mary Fowler in 1751, and they had ten children. The church  paid him a much smaller salary than the white men doing the same job. To make ends meet, he bound books and carved spoons, pails, and gun stocks for his white neighbors. Despite the prejudice he faced, in 1759, Samson became on of the first ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church.


His passion was to share the Gospel with other Native Americans, and he was commission by the Scotch Society of Missions to preach to the Cherokee in Georgia and Tennessee. Fighting among the Cherokee and white settles put those plans on hold, so instead he went to New York to preach among the Oneida.

In 1765, Samson traveled with George Whitefield, Great Awakening preacher, during his sixth preaching tour in the colonies. Later that year, he traveled to England with Nathaniel Whitaker to raise money for Wheelock’s Indian Charity School. Over the next two years, he preached over 200 sermons in England and was well received. He raised over 11,000 pounds, the most ever raised for a ministry in the colonies. While in England Samson visited with John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, and received an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh which he politely declined.

When he returned to America in 1768, Samson found that Wheelock had failed to care for his wife and children as promised. Samson’s family was living in poverty. The rift widened when he learned Wheelock had used the money he’d raised to move the school to New Hampshire and decided to exclude Indians. Wheelock renamed the school Dartmouth.

Samson was a prolific writer throughout his lifetime. He kept a diary from 1743 to 1790 about his work that became an historic document. In 1772, he preached a temperance sermon at the execution of a Native American who murdered a man while he was drunk. That sermon became a best seller. He also wrote and published hymns. He is recognized as the first Native American to become published.


When Samson became a defender of land claims of the Montauk and Oneida against speculators, false rumors were spread that he was a heavy drinker and not even a Mohegan which caused the loss of support from his denomination and several missionary societies. He wrote an autobiography to defend himself, but it did little good.


Throughout the 1770s and 1780s, Samson preached among the Mohegan and other tribes in New England. After the Revolutionary War, he settled in Brothertown, New York on a reservation for New England Indians where he establish the first Indian Presbyterian Church. In 1791, he died while gathering wood to finish the new church building.


His legacy continued after his death through his children, students, and converts who also ministered to Native Americans. Two of his students also became authors. Besides being the first Native American who was published, Samson fought for Native American rights, spread the Gospel to New England tribes, and promoted education for Native Americans. 

 

Sarah Edwards – The Mother of the Great Awakening

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Sarah Edwards is often overlooked when the First Great Awakening of the 1700s is mentioned, but her legacy and contribution to her husband’s ministry are enormous.  Over fourteen hundred descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards have been traced in 1900 by A.E. Winship. Of these, fourteen became college presidents, roughly one hundred became professors, another one hundred ministers, and about the same number became lawyers or judges. Nearly sixty became doctors, and others were authors or editors.

Sarah Pierpont was born in 1710. Her father, James Pierpont, was one of the founders of Yale University. Sarah was known for her love of God at an early age. When she was 13, Jonathan attended Yale at age 16. He would often wait outside Pierpont’s church to catch a glimpse of her. He had this to say about her.

They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is loved of that Great Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight; and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on Him…You could not persuade her to do any thing wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this Great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind; especially after this Great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure…She loves to be alone… and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her.”

Sarah Pierrepont married Jonathan Edwards on July 28, 1727 at the age of 17. Jonathan was serious and scholarly. Sarah was beautiful and enjoyed conversation. As far as their personalities, they couldn’t be further apart, but what attracted them to each other is their love for God.

Jonathan and Sarah had 11 children, 3 sons and 8 daughters. She prayed consistently for her children and was known for her parenting skills. She treated her children with gentleness and firmness. Although Jonathan contributed with child-rearing, making sure he spent at least one hour with the children every day when he wasn’t traveling, most of the parenting was done by Sarah. All of their sons became pastors, and their daughters married pastors.

Jonathan was also known as being absent-minded, spending as much as 13 hours a day in study, so Sarah was responsible for maintaining the household and keeping things going.One remarkable thing for that time period was Jonathan’s attitude toward Sarah. He valued her intelligence and not only relied on her to manage his personal affairs, but she also helped him with the ministry.

In 1734-1735, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Northampton and the surrounding ares erupted. Jonathan was at the center of that outpouring, but Sarah experienced it too. Jonathan asked his wife to write a testimony about her experience, and she wrote a long one. One phrased she used to describe it was being “swallowed up in God”.

When George Whitefield, Great Awakening preacher, visited Jonathan and Sarah Edwards in 1730, he said, “A sweeter couple I have not yet seen” and wrote about the peaceful home Sarah had created and how she freely talked about the things of God. He called her a perfect helpmeet for her husband and determined to get married himself.

In 1750, Sarah was by Jonathan’s side when he struggled with the congregation at Northampton Church. He would not allow the members of his church to take communion unless they had a salvation experience. This angered many of them because the town council had to be communicants of the Congregational Church to hold on to their government positions. The last pastor, Solomon Stoddard who was Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather, had allowed anyone to take communion regardless of their salvation.

Many in the church came against Jonathan when he asked for a raise in his stipend due to rising costs. The church said they would only consent after investigating the Edwards’ material affairs. Some were outraged that their extravagant minister had two wigs and two teapots! Jonathan denied possessing even one wig although he did admit they had several teapots. The congregation used this excuse to fire him.

Edwards was still in high demand and in 1751, became pastor of the church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. In 1757, Jonathan became President of the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton. 

Jonathan died on March 22, 1758 when he contracted smallpox. He was out of town, so Sarah couldn’t be with him. He did leave a deathbed message for her. Over a year later, Sarah became ill during an epidemic and died at the age of 49.

Sarah was a woman who loved God, her husband, and her children. In many ways, she was a woman who was ahead of her time. She left a legacy that is still alive today.

Bibles in Colonial America

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Bibles were in America from the earliest days of the English colonization. There were four common translations of the Bible in the early 1600s: The Great Bible, The Bishop’s Bible, The Geneva Bible, and the King James Bible. Bibles were allowed to be printed only at official printers approved by the king, so Bibles weren’t printed in America. The first Bible printed in America was Saur’s German Bible in 1743.

In his book written in 1810, The History of Printing in America, Isaiah Thomas claims Gamaliel Rogers and Daniel Fowler printed about 2,000 copies of the New Testament in Boston, Massachusetts as early as 1750. Apparently they falsely added to the first page that the Bible was printed in London to avoid being fined by the English Crown, but there is no proof that happened.

The first English language Bible printed in America that can be verified was in 1771. Robert Aitken, who became the first official printer of the Journals of Congress for the United States Congress in 1776, was disturbed by the lack of Bibles in America so he printed the first English language New Testament. On January 21, 1781, Aitken petitioned the Unites States Congress to authorize, and if possible even fund, the printing of a complete Bible in the English language of the King James Version. On September 10, 1782, Aitken received authorization to commence his American printing of the Bible in English. In 1782, Robert Aitken produced the first English language Bible printed in America. It was known as the “Bible of the American Revolution.

Nobody knows for sure which Bibles were brought to America. A Bible might have been brought to the Roanoke colony in 1585. More likely, it was in 1605 when Jamestown was colonized. The Great Bible translated in 1539 was the first official English translation, and many churches used that version, so it might have been brought to Roanoke or Jamestown. The Great Bible used the outlawed Tyndale Bible as its guide. Another Bible that might have been in early Jamestown was the Bishop’s Bible first printed in 1568 to correct problems in The Great Bible translation. It was the authorized version of the Bible in England until 1611 when the King James Bible was authorized. There may have been King James Bibles later, but in 1605 when the ships sailed for Jamestown, it didn’t exist. By 1620, it might have been shipped to Jamestown for use by the pastor.

When the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620, there were two Bible translations aboard the ships. John Alden, a prominent member of the Plymouth Colony who was a ship’s carpenter on the Mayflower, brought a copy of the King James Bible. Alden was not originally a member of the Pilgrims which is why he probably brought that version. The Pilgrims used the Geneva Bible first printed in 1560, the most popular English Bible until the mid-seventeenth century. William Bradford quoted from the Geneva Bible. The Bible was given its name because of its associations with the Calvinists in Geneva. The Geneva Bible had study notes in it written by many Protestant reformers including John Calvin. King James considered the translation seditious.