I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Moravian lovefeasts at a young age — and by a bunch of Baptists, rather than Moravians. The church I grew up in — Oakhurst Baptist in Decatur, Georgia — had a long-standing tradition of hosting a lovefeast each December to ring in the Christmas season. It was always one of the highlights of Christmastime for me — and continues to be. For me, Christmas lovefeasts signal the official start of Christmas. They are festive without being overdone, they are coordinated without feeling too planned — they just feel comfortably and magically celebratory.
For the two Christmases we’ve lived here in Winston-Salem (home to a deeply rooted Moravian community), we’ve attended the Christmas lovefeast at Wake Forest’s Wait Chapel (the largest Christmas lovefeast in the country!).
For those not familiar with the lovefeast custom (or with Moravians, for that matter), it’s a beautiful representation of community within the church. Moravians host lovefeasts for a variety of occasions, but the Christmas lovefeast is the one I’m most familiar with. Upon entering the church, attendees are each given a distinctively Moravian beeswax candle, with its base wrapped in red crepe paper.
Then the service — made up mostly of music — begins. The choir performs some songs solo, and often there’s another musical group or two involved for some special pieces (last night at Wake’s event there was a flute group and also a harpist, for example). But the congregation gets to sing lots, too — hymns like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” and my favorite, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
And where exactly does the “feast” portion come into play? Well, about three-fourths of the way through the service, dieners (German for “servers”) begin passing around hot coffee and sweetened rolls called “love buns.” With a backdrop of choral song, the congregation then takes part in the “feast.” (Note: I’ve never made love buns myself, but here’s a recipe that promises to be nice and authentic if you want to give it a try.)
Following the “feast,” the dieners come back by and light the candle of the person at the end of each row, and then the flame is passed down the line until everyone’s candles are lit. The Moravian song “Morning Star” is sung, and then everyone belts “Joy to the World,” raising their candles to fill the room with amazing light and warmth.
To me, this feels more like Christmas than just about anything else. Thank you, Moravians, for creating such a wonderful holiday tradition!