By Sandra Cook, NC NIE A recent newspaper story about Moravian traditions reminded me of the star that my mother hung outside our house each Christmas. I bought the Moravian star during a summer I spent in Old Salem. I was also reminded of Helen Marley, a retired teacher, now deceased, who shared stories from her mother’s childhood in a serialized story, Behind the High Board Fence. A friend of hers illustrated each chapter. Helen was generous in sharing her writing and speaking about the love and respect she felt for her mother. Her mother’s written account of her early years in Winston-Salem served as the basis of the story. A sidebar for Chapter 13 of the story described Moravian traditions. Here’s what it said:
Moravian ‘love-fest’ promotes unity
The Moravian Church, a Protestant Christian denomination, grew in Bohemia in the 15th century. Seeking religious freedom, members moved from Europe to what became Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1733. In 1753, twelve single brothers left Pennsylvania and settled in North Carolina on land called Wachau or Wachovia, named for an estate held by the church’s patron and protector, Count Zinzendorf. Bethabara, Bethania and Salem became North Carolina’s first Moravian settlements. Early Moravians ate, studied and worshipped in communal living groups, organized around age, gender and marital status. Little boys and girls under 12 and older boys and girls over 12, single “sisters” and “brethren” over 19 and married people made up separate groups or “choirs.” One custom of Moravian Church is the celebration of a “love-fest” on Christmas Eve. The celebration involves singing songs, sharing food, drink and fellowship and the lighting of candles. The women of the church dress in white and serve sweet buns, and the men serve hot drinks. The service ends with the lighting and lifting of candles, the singing of a song of praise and a blessing from the bishop. Each person is challenged to serve God and help one another in the coming year. http://aos-world.org/atsea/letters/lovefest.pdf The sidebar explains how and why NC Moravians came to NC. Because I didn’t grow up in a Moravian Church, I did not know much about Moravians or the “love-fest” until I was an adult. Today, young people often learn not only about their family’s traditions and religious practices but also about customs and religious beliefs of others in their community. The cup, bun and candle represent the Moravian “love-fest.” Are they signs or symbols? How do those who celebrate Christmas differ in their use of signs and symbols? Think more about the questions….
A recent newspaper column written by Rabbi Marc Gellman differentiated between “signs” and religious “symbols” of Christmas, Hanukah and other holidays or celebrations. He offered reasons for his conclusions, “I'm in favor of publicly sharing our signs but not publicly sharing our symbols.” He spoke of the discomfort others feel with public displays of religious symbols. So, what’s the difference according to Gellman? “A symbol points beyond itself, while a sign does not. A Christmas tree is a sign of Christmas. It's just a tree. The menorah is just a sign of Hanukkah. It's a candle holder. A cross, however, is a symbol of the risen Christ and is probably the most powerful symbol in all religious life.”
Debates on what religious freedom and speech allow go to the heart of the First Amendment. Think about your own experiences: Have you ever objected to a public display (or statement) because it asserted a belief that you did not share? What did you find objectionable? What do you propose for public displays or statements?
FOR STUDENTS Newspapers publish stories about different holidays. Start now and collect stories that you find about the holidays celebrated during this winter season. Answer text-dependent questions, such as: 1) What is the holiday? 2) What’s the significance of the holiday? 3) Is the holiday secular or religious? Does it have components of both? 4) Who celebrates the holiday? How? 5) What are the signs of the holiday? 6) What religious symbols associated with the holiday? What are their significance to faith-based groups and/or non-believers? Also, search newspaper archives for stories about various holidays. Read different stories and analyze any photos or illustrations. Take notes about what you learn and share what you record with classmates. Based on what you learn, do you agree that signs and symbols differ? Does everyone agree on what constitutes a sign and/or symbol? Classify as a SIGN or SYMBOL what you find in newspapers; include items that appear in advertisements. Use this T-CHART Word & PDF. Do any items fall into both categories? Does the significance of signs and symbols depend on the person who displays and/or views the sign or symbol? “Collaborative conversations” allow you to hear different perspectives on the questions.
FOR TEACHERS and PARENTS Newspaper in Education professionals have shared many scavenger hunts that can be completed using print and or e-editions of newspapers. Teachers and parents, have your children find the following and ask them to add to the list. 1) Something you’d like to receive 2) Something you’d like to give 3) A holiday story or photo about a way you celebrate the holiday 4) A holiday story or photo that is NOT about the way you celebrate the holiday 5) A place likely to experience a white Christmas (or not) 6) A word or phrase that describes the season 7) A holiday food and/or recipe 8) A sporting event scheduled for winter vacation 9) A local music, play or other art presentation offered during the holiday season 10) A problem you’d wish to have solved in the new year (local, state and world) Prepared by NCPF, NC NIE, firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 843-5648.