Canadian News Headlines – A star is born: How a Moravian symbol became a sign of Christmas in Labrador – Newfoundland & Labrador

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Linda Saunders-McLean rings church bells

Linda Saunders-McLean rings the bells at the Moravian Church in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Above, a stained-glass Moravian star hangs in the window. It was a gift from an American visitor years ago. (Bailey White/CBC)

If you should happen to drive by Linda Saunders-McLean’s house in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the night, you’ll see her living room lit up by a glowing white light with 26 points.

The geometric shape is technically known as an augmented rhombicuboctahedron, but Saunders-McLean just calls it a Moravian star.

Thanks to ease of online shopping and global commerce, more Moravian stars are available in Happy Valley-Goose Bay than ever before, and Moravians and non-Moravians alike are decorating their homes with them.

Dietrich Holeiter with a Moravian star

Dietrich Holeiter, a member of the Happy Valley Moravian Church, holds a Christmas tree-topping star. The church sells stars of different shapes and sizes to help pay the bills. (Bailey White/CBC)

“It seems to be becoming more and more popular in the community,” said Saunders-McLean, a chapel servant at the Happy Valley Moravian Church.

“A lot of people are calling and asking for the stars.”

Stars used to be scarce

The multisided star has been associated with the Moravian faith for centuries, but only in the last 20 years or so have they been available in Labrador.

Shipping to the region has always been costly and time-consuming, but since the Trans-Labrador Highway came through in the 1990s, it’s gotten a little easier.

“Things were so difficult to get here,” Saunders-McLean said, “It just wasn’t so readily available for everybody to hang in our homes.”

What’s more, the geopolitical climate made it nearly impossible for anyone in North America to buy a star for several decades.

The first factory to mass-produce stars was in Herrnhut, which was part of East Germany until reunification in 1990.

Dietrich Holeiter, another member of the Happy Valley congregation, once asked a friend who was visiting the then-Communist state to bring him back a Moravian star.

Moravian star chain

These miniature Moravian stars were manufactured at the Herrnhuter Star Factory in Germany. Linda Saunders-McLean has a string of them on her Christmas tree. (Bailey White/CBC)

“That’s the only way. You couldn’t go buy them anywhere,” Holeiter said.

Back then, the Herrnhuter Star Factory made only red stars, a nod to the the country’s political system.

“I never put it together,” Holeiter laughed. “I didn’t want a Commie star!”

Geometry lesson

The first 26-sided star was conceived in a math class at a Moravian-run school in Germany, Holeiter said. In the early 1800s, students built stars as part of a geometry lesson, and brought them home at Christmastime.

Dietrich Holeiter and Linda Saunders-McLean

A Moravian star hangs over the altar at the Happy Valley Moravian Church, behind Dietrich Holeiter and Linda Saunders-McLean, standing on the balcony. (Bailey White/CBC)

The eye-catching design was adopted as a symbol for the season. It’s hung on the first day of Advent and represents the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi to Jesus Christ, according to the Christian Gospel of Matthew.

Holeiter, who’s originally from Switzerland, said when he was growing up many people made their own stars out of paper, something he’s done in recent years by recycling the brightly coloured church bulletins handed out each Sunday.

Long history in Labrador

The Moravian faith was imported to Labrador in the late 1700s by missionaries who established settlements among the Inuit in what is now Nunatsiavut.

Despite a complex history — Moravians operated two residential schools in Labrador — many Inuit practise the faith.

Small child Christingle service Nain

A small girl grips a candle at a Christingle service on Christmas Eve in Nain. In Moravian tradition, the apple represents the world, and the candle represents Jesus Christ. (Submitted)

Schools in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik bear the names of prominent missionaries, and several Nunatsiavummiut have become leaders in the church. Today it is not uncommon to hear Inutitut, a Labrador dialect of Inuktitut, spoken or sung at a Moravian service.

Displaying the star is just one the Christmas traditions unique to Moravians. On Christmas Eve, Moravian churches in Labrador also host Christingle services, which include Inutitut hymns and candles pushed inside apples; the apples represent the world, and the candles Jesus Christ.

Labrador coloured Moravian star

Dietrich Holeiter uses pieces from three different Moravian star assembly kits to create these ornaments in the colours of the Labrador flag. (Bailey White/CBC)

“There’s always people outside of the Moravian Church that will come and take part,” Saunders-McLean said of the Christmas Eve service. “Because it is such a beautiful symbol for the season, which really helps people get in the mood.”

She said more people from outside the faith are also seeking out Moravian stars.

“I think it’s really nice to see that there is an interest outside of our congregation,” she said. “We can give them a little bit of information and just tell them why it’s important to us in our church.”

Herrnhuter Star Factory pamphlet

A Herrnhuter Star Factory pamphlet offers Moravian stars in various colours and sizes, as well as accessories like hooks and light bulbs. (Bailey White/CBC)

An added bonus: sales of Moravian stars, which the Happy Valley church orders from outlets in Herrnhut, Germany, and Bethlehem, Penn., raise money for the small congregation.

This year chapel servants are selling traditional stars, tree-topping stars, and sets of miniature stars on strings. Any money they make will help pay for repairs or cover the church’s bills.

As for why they’ve become so popular, Saunders-McLean says the answer is simple: “It just looks very pretty.”

Happy Valley Moravian Church

A stained glass Moravian star hangs in the belfry at the Happy Valley Moravian Church (Bailey White/CBC)

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Originally posted 2017-12-25 12:34:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter