Candle Tea, Lovefeast and Thee: A Winston-Salem Holiday Primer

Since 1753, Winston-Salem, North Carolina has been a haven for Moravian settlers seeking religious freedom. Over the years, these peaceful pragmatists formed a community based on common ideals, shared work and a deep respect for the land, art and music. (They also made a darn fine cookie.)

As their community blossomed, so did their impact on the surrounding region. Today, neighbors and visitors alike flock to Winston-Salem each winter to experience cherished Moravian traditions like Candle Tea and Lovefeast first-hand. But what are they, exactly? Is it really a feast? And do you have to be religious to attend? 

The answers might surprise you. 

Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy two of our favorite Moravian holiday traditions like a Winston-Salem native. 

Old Salem Christmas Candle Tea - Beeswax Candlemaking

Candle Tea

More than a gathering, but less than a service, traditional Moravian Candle Tea at Old Salem is considered the opening event of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Guests are greeted by costumed interpreters in period Moravian attire for a guided tour of Single Brothers House decorated for the holidays. On display is an elaborate Christmas display, called a “putz,” that includes both a Nativity scene, as well as a miniature replica of the town of Salem as it was more than a century ago.

Guests then proceed to the “saal” or chapel, for community carol singing accompanied by a stunning, restored 1798 Tannenberg organ. Fellowship continues with a scripture reading, as guests take turns lighting their individual, handmade beeswax candles, adorned in traditional red fringe. The Tea concludes with a warm mug of Moravian coffee and a yeasty square of Moravian Sugar Cake. 

Candle Tea is hosted each year by the Women’s Fellowship of Home Moravian Church, which uses the proceeds to support many charitable causes. 

  • Location:
    • Historic Old Salem Single Brothers’ House (600 South Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC)
  •  Dates:
    • Thursdays, Dec. 5 & 12 from 1–8:30 p.m.
    • Fridays, Dec. 6 & 13 from 1–8:30 p.m.
    • Saturdays, Dec. 7 & 14, 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

If You Go, You Should Know

  • This season marks the 90th anniversary of the Winston-Salem Candle Tea, so tickets will be in high demand. 
  • Walk-up admission to Candle Tea is $5.00 for adults and $1.00 for children 12 and under. Cash and checks only.
  • As an added treat, Old Salem’s Moravian brass band plays throughout the streets of Old Salem each evening from 7 p.m. until closing, rain or shine. While you’re here, you’ll want to spend some time touring the heirloom gardens, browsing the shops, or simply reveling in the historic holiday vibe. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Expect to park at the Old Salem Visitor Center (900 Old Salem Road) and walk a fair distance to Single Brother’s House, possibly at night. Plan for historic cobblestone streets, dim gas lamps and narrow sidewalks. 
  • Be sure to check here for updated information on detours and alternate routes due to construction along Business 40 (Salem Parkway).

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Lovefeast

Building on the Moravian tradition of Candle Tea, Winston-Salem’s Wake Forest University puts its own unique spin on the community ceremony with its annual Lovefeast in Wait Chapel. Equal parts Christian reflection and community celebration, Lovefeast brings together students and faculty, neighbors and visitors, family and friends with a common aim: to nourish themselves body and soul. While a cherished celebration during the holidays, Moravian lovefeasts commemorate special occasions throughout the year.

A holiday tradition among Moravians for centuries prior, Wake Forest University held its first lovefeast in 1965 when Moravian student Jane Sherrill Stroupe organized the first gathering — with more than two hundred students in attendance. Students continued the tradition year after year, growing it to become the largest Moravian-style lovefeast in North America.

Traditionally, a lovefeast meal is meant to be simple and easily distributed. At Wake Forest, the Lovefeast consists of a sweetened bun and creamed coffee, which dieners (German for “servers”) place in baskets or trays to pass along the pews. During the meal, music from the Wake Forest Concert Choir, Handbell Choir, Flute Choir, and the Messiah Moravian Church Band fills the air. Attendees enjoy the music, listen to scripture readings, and receive handmade beeswax candles decorated with a traditional red paper frill. Finally, the chapel is completely darkened, save a lone, illuminated Moravian Advent Star. The choir leads everyone in singing the final hymns, each passing the light from their candle to another, one by one, until the darkened Chapel glows with warm, bright light. 

There can be no better metaphor for the power of love. 

If You Go, You Should Know

  • The annual Wake Forest Lovefeast celebrates one of the unique traditions of the Moravian community in Winston-Salem. This year there will be two services held in Wait Chapel on Sunday, Dec. 8. 
  • Both events will be streamed live online, and available after the event for viewing anytime.
  • The event is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend. Seating is first-come, first-served.
  • Can’t make it this year? Instructions for celebrating your own Lovefeast are available here. 
  • Sample Moravian items while you visit, or bring some home for family and friends from these local purveyors: Old Salem’s Winkler Bakery and Dewey’s Bakery