Well, this past week I was looking down into the holler toward Webb’s Creek thinking about the seven years when I lived just a few miles south of Nazareth… in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is nestled in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains about an hour north of Philadelphia. It was established on a cold wintry Christmas Eve in 1741 by Moravian settlers. Many streets are still made of cobblestones and the hilly avenues are lined with gas streetlights and centuries old brick buildings. It is quite a charming place year-round, but at Christmas the unusual Moravian style lighting in Bethlehem turns the community into a living postcard.
Most of the residents continue the Moravian tradition of placing simple white candlelights in each window of their homes to light the way for the Christ-child. Picture an entire city with thousands of homes all twinkling with candlelights in each window. When I lived in Bethlehem you would have been hard-pressed to find any colored lights in the entire city. A huge white star known as the “Star of Bethlehem” beamed brightly from the highest mountaintop just at the edge of the little town. Unusual twenty-six pointed Moravian stars were hung in doorways adding to the enchanting storybook feel of Bethlehem. It looked and felt like a scene from a classic Christmas Card. Add some snowflakes and strolling carolers dressed in 1700’s garb and you can understand my sentimentality. Christmas in Bethlehem will always have a special place in my heart.
I really enjoyed the German Bach choir and the Moravian church tradition of hot chocolate and sugarcakes during the Christmas Eve services. Moravians established the very first Protestant denomination in the world and left central Europe to enjoy religious freedom in America. Experiencing the Moravian culture and their traditional customs in Bethlehem was deeply touching.
Simple white lights and the austere Moravian lifestyle is inspirational, but there is also something incredible about the millions of lights in Gatlinburg, the millions of lights in Dollywood and additional millions of lights in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. It adds up to just about a zillion lights (give or take a million) and can probably be seen by weightless astronauts peeking out the little window on the space station. Have you ever sung the twelve days of Christmas as you drive past the animated displays in Pigeon Forge? Have you ever huddled with the crowd around that little lake at Dollywood as the lights dance to the music in a symphony of incredible colors and sound? (The best viewing area is near the conveniently located funnel cake shoppe.) It is downright impossible to describe our lights to those who have never experienced Christmas in the Smokies. It is truly beyond description.
I am so blessed to have experienced two of the most awesome Christmas season locations in the world. Christmas in the Smokies is my little church by the creek, trolley rides, the awesome Christmas parade, music, colorful lights, shopping, cool animated displays, great food, friends and snow-topped mountains glistening in the morning sun. Whew!
Last week I went to a Christmas party at a friend’s cabin in the mountains. I was reminded that the Christmas lights and traditions in Bethlehem, PA and our traditions in the Smokies are each unique, but the warmth of friendship creates a special kind of light that shines directly from one heart to another. A heartfelt smile and a twinkle in the eye is the greatest Christmas light show of them all. We definitely ought to leave those “lights” up all year long.
Whether lighting the way for the Christ child with gentle white candlelights in a Pennsylvanian hamlet or lighting the night skies with an amazing sensory explosion of colored lights in the Smokies; both serve as well lit paths celebrating His arrival on Christmas Eve. Maybe this year I’ll kick in some hot chocolate and sugarcakes at midnight just for good Moravian measure. That is just how it looks from my log cabin.
John LaFevre is a local speaker and co-author of the interactive national park hiking book series, Scavenger Hike Adventures, Falcon Guides, Globe Pequot Press. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artist G. Webb lives in Pittman Center, Tennessee. Gwebbgallery.com.