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The History and Tradition of the Moravian Star

The Moravian star shines in windows at Christmas time and decorates house entrances, fir trees and Christmas markets - and not only in Germany. It is considered the origin of all Christmas stars and has been handmade in Upper Lusatia in Saxony for over 100 years. But where does the distinctive star with its many points come from and how did become so popular?

The Moravian star - a popular Christmas decoration

The iconic Moravian star, known as the "Herrnhut star" in Germany, is a true classic of annual Christmas decorations, and it is impossible to imagine the Christmas season without it hanging in shops, living rooms, Christmas markets and churches. The contemplative glow of the star is a beautiful tradition that began in the mid-19th century and has been illuminating the Advent season in Germany and around the world ever since. For example, it has already shone in the city centre of St. Petersburg, in Liverpool Cathedral and the Federal Chancellery. The star is said to symbolise the Star of Bethlehem, which showed people the way to Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem. This Christmas star has become a popular 1st Advent craft tradition in many families.

The origin and tradition of the Moravian star

The history of the Moravian star began in the small town of Herrnhut in Upper Lusatia (Saxony). In 1722, refugees from Catholic Bohemia and Moravia, who were persecuted in their homeland because of their Lutheran faith, found refuge there. A few years later, they founded the Moravian Brethren, an Evangelical Free Church denomination that has members in over 35 countries on all continents. They see Jesus Christ as the centre of their faith.

The Moravian Brethren travelled the world on missions to spread the Christian message and their ideal of praying and working together in the service of God. At the same time, they founded other communities in Germany. The missionaries' children attended boarding schools in Germany and were thus separated from their parents, who were on missions in Africa and Asia.

In 1820, a boarding school pupil from Niesky made a diary entry about a star made of coloured paper that had 110 points and was illuminated by a lamp. Making stars as a symbol of the Christmas story around the birth of Jesus was a popular pastime during Advent at the boarding schools of the Brethren. It was also a comfort to students whose parents lived thousands of kilometres away from Herrnhut. Last but not least, the star also corresponded to the Brethren's Christmas carol: "Morgenstern auf finstre Nacht" (Morning Star of the Dark Night) by Johann Scheffler.

Herrnhuter Stern als Deko an einem Weihnachtsbaum

In the 19th century, the beautiful Christmas custom of ringing in the Advent season with the star was finally established. Alongside the nativity scene, Christmas tree and the like, the characteristic Moravian star has become an indispensable part of the Christmas season.

Nativity set
Nativity figures set
Nativity stables
Holy family statue

In 1897, businessman Pieter Hendrik Verbeek constructed the first stable, composable star that could also be shipped and sold it in his shop in Herrnhut. In 1925, he finally applied for a patent for the first bodiless star. This model, with 17 square and eight triangular points, corresponds to the design commonly used today. He then began mass production and distribution of the original Moravian stars in his newly created manufactory. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the company became Herrnhuter Sterne GmbH. Even today, Moravian stars are still handmade as Advent decorations in many mission sites around the world.

Appearance and types of the Moravian star

The idea for the Christmas star is said to have been born in mathematics lessons at the beginning of the 19th century. A mathematics teacher wanted to use it to teach the children of the Herrnhut missionaries about geometric shapes. The Christmas star with its characteristic shape is an excellent object to illustrate in geometry lessons. This is because Moravian stars include so-called star bodies, which are composed of a rhombicuboctahedron. This consists of:

  • 26 faces,
  • Eight triangular prongs and
  • 17 quadrangular prongs

The star is assembled after purchase, however, using assembly clamps, a suspension bar and two spare prongs. Apart from a little skill, patience is also needed for construction.

Moravian stars in different colorsMoravian Stars come in a variety of colours. Originally, a Moravian star would shine in white and red.

If you want to decorate your house or home with a Moravian star, you will be spoilt for choice between different sizes of paper and plastic stars: 13 cm, 40 cm, 60 cm, 70 cm and 80 cm. To decorate the entrance area or for the Christmas tree in the garden and for public events, the star is produced in diameters of 8 cm (miniature star), 13 cm, 40 cm, 68 cm and 130 cm. In churches and public buildings, custom-made Moravian stars with a diameter of almost two metres shine during the Christmas season.

Manufacturing Moravian stars

Video: Assembly Instructions Moravian Star

The well-known Christmas star comes from the traditional Herrnhut manufactory, where, according to the company website, around 700,000 stars are lovingly handmade every year. Here, the employees fold and glue small and large paper stars day after day. In the production of the plastic stars, the employees are assisted by machines in shaping the points. Most of the stars are then sold as kits via online retailers or specialised craft retailers. During the Christmas season, you can also see the Herrnhut workers at Christmas markets all over Germany, where they sell the famous pointed star and give valuable tips on how to assemble it.

FAQs about the history and tradition of the Moravian stars

Where does the Moravian star come from?

As its name suggests, the Moravian star (Herrnhut star in German) comes from the small town of Herrnhut in Upper Lusatia (Saxony). The Moravian Brethren gave the star its name and is the original manufacturer.

How many points does a true Moravian star have?

A genuine Moravian star consists of 25 points - 17 square points and eight triangular points.

What colour is a Moravian star?

Traditionally, a Moravian star shines in white or red - a white spike for the purity of Jesus and a red spike for the blood shed on the cross. But there are many other colour combinations.

How are Moravian stars manufactured?

Moravian stars are still largely handmade by Herrnhuter Sterne GmbH to this day. Only in the case of plastic stars do machines help to shape the points.

What other famous Christmas stars are there?

Besides the Moravian star, there are other famous Advent stars from Saxony, for example, the Hasslau star or the Hartensteiner star.

The Moravian star - a traditional Christmas star with a joyful message

While the Moravian star used to shine predominantly in Protestant churches and private homes, it has now become a true classic in Christmas and Advent decorations, hanging in town halls, shopping centres and at Christmas markets. Above all, it is the star's timeless, aesthetic form, history and joyful message that captivates people all over the world.

Credits: main image: ©gettyimages/Westend61, image 1: ©gettyimages/Poorfish.

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