And When They Saw the Star

December 14, 2020 by

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matt. 2:10–11)

Platte Clove community folklore tells of two hikers lost in the Catskills, who saw the sturdy Moravian star hanging at the tip of the gabled roof on our main building. They followed the star back to civilization, narrowly escaping hypothermia. If I know my Platte Clove brothers and sisters, I’m sure the hikers were offered a hot meal of chicken and brown rice.

StarEmbed1Photo by Sebastian Fröhlich on Unsplash.

Those who’ve never seen a Moravian star may find this story hard to believe, as will those who have never been lost in the woods in winter, but it’s true. Last Sunday a visiting friend trusted me implicitly to take her on a hike to “Panther Point.” Of course, I thought, everyone knows Panther Point. That’s the closest hiking destination you can find. I mean, it’s closer than Codfish Point, Huckleberry Point, Avocado Point, and Salmon Point. Luckily my friend forgave me for losing the trail and leading her through the bushes for two hours, just trying to survive until we stumbled out onto Route 16, cheering loudly at the sight of our community’s main building towering above the trees.

Recently I decided to hang up my family’s indoor Moravian star, a tradition I have loved since my first Christmas. If you visit a Bruderhof community you’ll see these stars as lamps in the middle of most living room ceilings around Christmas time. According to the Moravian Church web site, the stars were invented in the 1800s for geometry classes at their German boarding schools and were carried across the world by Moravian missionaries. Since the stars can be disassembled and the points stacked and packed in a box out of season, I can imagine missionaries were happy to make space for them in their suitcases.

My family’s star lives on a shelf in a storage room we share with all the families in our house. As I carried it into our living room I felt the familiar warm thrill (which may be an association with chocolate). Our star is white, not orange or yellow as some stars are, but it still beats our usual dusty, ripped balloon lamp by far. I turned up the music and spread out the large and small star points on the table. No one was around. I wanted to make my mom a surprise.

Sometime during my high school years I learned the most important secret of successful star assembly. Start by making a circle of eight large points. Then you must be sure to alternate the large points with the small triangular points, and your star will always form a unique sphere with an opening at the top for your hanging lightbulb. Brass fasteners with split ends, called brads, hold these points together. Our brads were stored in a medicine cup wrapped with scotch tape. Luckily we had more than enough. Running out of brads is the worst.

I have recently become interested in hatha yoga – but my interest goes no further than reading since I am probably the least flexible person you will ever meet. Yet as I clipped together my star, I found myself in some fascinating positions I never thought I could achieve.

The first circle of points was easy and the top half of the star was no problem. But another old technique I learned in high school – hanging the top half of your Moravian star on a broom handle across two chairs – was more difficult than I thought. Hanging the half star across two chairs helps facilitate assembling the bottom half, since the star eventually becomes an enclosed shape with only a small hole at the top big enough to admit a light bulb. I knelt down and attached the first few points across the bottom in an attitude of vigorous prayer. That soon became painful, so I sat cross-legged on the floor and twisted my neck to see what I was doing inside the star. Those little brads made me so mad. Their split ends were impossible to navigate by touch, but essential to properly holding the star together. Each point has four places that need pinning to another point. For half an hour I fought to bring them together, knowing I must be doing something wrong since Moravian stars are made to be symmetric and should never be stretched like this.

StarEmbed2The Keiderling's star. Photo by the author.

Finally, our battered star hung above our table. As I do every year, I marveled at how the star changes the atmosphere of our living room. Not to be sentimental, but I think its light reflects in my family’s faces and helps us look up at each other, rather than down at the not-yet-swept floor.

So although our star is indoors and can’t really be seen from the woods, we’ll keep our curtains open for any travelers who are interested this winter. Don’t be deterred by that family sitting around the table, maybe chewing with their mouths open. Look a little higher and you will see our star.


About the author

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling lives and works at the Platte Clove Bruderhof.

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