History of the Moravian University Christmas Vespers
An Online Exhibit by the Moravian University Archives and the Moravian Music Foundation
“A delightful surprise awaited us at the chapel service on the evening of the last Sunday of the term. As only a very few of us remain at the Seminary during the Christmas holidays, and therefore miss the unique and beautiful Christmas services in the Moravian Church, Dr. Hark turned the Sunday evening worship into a Christmas Eve service. We sang a number of beautiful Christmas hymns and carols. Dr. Hark made an address explaining the significance of the Moravian custom of serving lighted wax tapers to all of the children and the young people, and then, during the singing of “Morning Star,” etc., the teachers entered the two side doors of the chapel, bearing trays of lighted wax tapers, one of which was handed to each one of us. The service was very impressive and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.”
-Anonymous (January 1895). School Happenings. The Mirror: The Student Newspaper of Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, Bethlehem, PA, v.X, (n.3), p.47.
This newspaper blurb from 1895 is the first reported instance of what we have come to know today as “The Moravian University Christmas Vespers,” a long cherished tradition where students, faculty and staff of Moravian University celebrate the end of the Fall Semester and welcome the Advent season through an evening of worship music, punctuated by a candlelight service.
As indicated in the article, the Vesper program was inspired by the Moravian Church’s Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, which many students were sad to miss due to the semester ending and having to return home. Dr Hark, Principal of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, however, had the brilliant idea to present the students with their own private version of this time-honored Moravian tradition so that students could enjoy the experience before returning home to celebrate the holidays with their families.
The Moravian Church’s “Christmas Eve Candlelight Service,” originated in Marienborn, Germany in 1747 and was shortly thereafter adopted by Moravians in Bethlehem in 1756. This service is a combination of two traditions, the Singstunde (Singing Hour), a service of music with no preaching, and a Candlelight Service.
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