A Moravian Mornings’ Christmas Special

Christmas at Bethabara

Story by Betty Russell

Grab some coffee or hot cocoa and snuggle up with the family for the story “Christmas at Bethabara” by Betty Russell. Join children Hannah and William, refugees staying at the Bethabara mill during the French and Indian War, as they experience their first Christmas at the Moravian town of Bethabara. This story was inspired from an excerpt from Adelaide Fries’ Records of the Moravians in North Carolina: December 1, 1760: ” On Christmas Day the English children from the mill came to see our Christmas decoration, they were so poorly clad that it would have moved a stone to pity. We told them why we rejoiced like children and gave to each a piece of cake. In Bethania, Br. Ettwein held a Lovefeast for the 24 children there, at the close of the service each received a pretty Christmas verse and a ginger cake, the first they had ever seen” (Vol I, 233).


Narrator: Maizie Plumley

Hannah: Maggie Pelta-Pauls

William: James Landolf

Mama: Casey Landolf

Papa: Seth Payne

Brother Loesch: Seth Payne

Brother Ettwein: Seth Payne





Transcript for Christmas at Bethabara


James: This is a Moravian Morning’s Christmas special. Christmas at Bethabara by Betty Russell.


Christmas at Bethabara by Betty Russell

Hannah: I’m cold. So cold.


Narrator: Hannah and her big brother, William, huddled together in the corner of their cabin.  They and their parents had come to the Moravian mill to find a safe place.  The war with the Native Americans was frightening, and the community of Bethabara and the Bethabara Mill were the only safe places to stay.  Papa had been bringing his grain to Bethabara for a few years.  Brother and Sister van der Merk, the miller and his wife, always welcomed farmers when they brought their wheat to be ground into flour. Now, many of the same farmers were bringing their families to the mill for protection. The wind was howling outside the little cabin and it blew in between the logs.


Hannah: I’m cold.


Narrator: Mama came over and pulled Hannah and William toward her and gathered them in her shawl.  The three of them shivered together.


Mama:  Hush, now. We must be grateful for this safe shelter that the kind Moravians have provided for us.  Tomorrow is a special day and Papa will have a surprise to tell you about when he comes inside.  He is helping fell trees today because the mill pond is frozen and the trees can be hauled across the ice.  The Moravians are adding to the palisade fort that surrounds the mill. They want to make sure we are all safe.


Narrator: Suddenly Hannah and William heard a loud noise. Papa was just outside, and he was brushing the snow and ice off his boots.  When he opened the door a gust of cold wind came inside with him. 


Hannah: I’m cold.


Papa: *laughs* It is December 24th and everyone is cold.  Stop crying and I will tell you about a surprise.


Narrator: Mama hurried to finish warming up some leftover stew for supper.  Hannah and William forgot about being cold and asked Papa again and again to tell them the surprise.


Papa: Not yet. First prayers and supper.


Narrator: Finally Papa sat down and pulled Hannah and William near.  


Papa: Tomorrow is Christmas Day and you are invited to go to Bethabara to see a special Christmas decoration.


Narrator: Hannah and William looked at each other.  They knew Christmas was a special day but they did not know how the Moravians celebrated.


William: Will you and Mama go with us?


Papa: No. Only children are invited for this special visit.


Hannah: What will the decoration look like?


Mama: You will have to be patient and find out tomorrow.


Narrator: Papa smiled at his children.  Even with the fear of Native American attacks and the cold weather, he was happy to see Hannah and William excited about their special Christmas adventure. 


Mama: Time to go to bed now. You must get a good rest if you want to walk to Bethabara tomorrow.


Narrator: She pulled the blanket up around her children.  The wind was still gusting outside. 


Hannah: I’m cold.


Narrator: Christmas morning arrived with a strong wind but also with a bright sunrise. 


 Mama: *whispering* The Moravians are trying to keep us as comfortable as possible, but it’s getting so crowded. Hopefully not much longer and we can return home.


 Papa: *whispering* Once all the attacks along the Yadkin stop, we can go. It’s just not safe right now. *sighs* The field is probably a mess, and I’m not even sure the animals will make it through the winter. At least for now, there’s work to be done building the palisade around the mill.


Narrator: William laid listening in his bed.


William: They sound so worried


 Hannah: I’m cold.


Papa: It’s time to get up! Time to get ready for your Christmas surprise! 


Narrator: Mama had saved some of yesterday’s bread for their breakfast.  They washed their faces and got dressed.  Hannah and William pulled on their thin stockings and shoes.  Their clothing would not block the wind but Mama wrapped them in her shawl.  Papa opened the door and saw other children outside waiting to begin the walk to Bethabara. They all chattered with excitement trying to imagine what the special decoration would be. Brother van der Merk and Brother Loesch led the children on the rutted trail through the woods.  William held Hannah’s hand and tried to keep the shawl pulled tightly around their shoulders. 


 Hannah: *teeth chattering* I’m cold.


Narrator: Finally, in the distance, William saw another palisade around the little community of Bethabara.  Outside the walls of the fort was a large, fenced garden and several small cabins and shops.  Suddenly the children heard a loud sound.  A bell was ringing. 


William: Be quiet. We are almost there.


Narrator: The watchman opened the gate and the children entered.  Inside the palisade there were many shops and houses arranged around an open square.  In the middle of the square was a bell tower.


William: Now I see where the sound was coming from.”


Narrator: He pointed out the bell to Hannah and the other children. 


William: Look!


Br. Loesch: Yes. The bell marks the hour but it also helps to keep us safe.  We have been told that some Indians were spying on our town but were frightened away when the night watchman rang the bell and blew his horn. Follow me.


Narrator: He led the children over to a very large building. As the children stood in front of the Gemeinhaus the door opened.


Br. Ettwein: Please come in. It’s cold out there!


Narrator: What amazing sights, sounds, and smells!  The building was warm.  The large Saal had benches lined up on both sides. (5:20ish) Hannah let go of William’s hand as she began to warm up.  The children heard beautiful music from a French horn, trumpets, flutes, violins and most of all—trombones.  Hannah had never heard anything like it before and she could hardly breathe because she did not want to miss hearing a single note of the music.  Just at that moment she and William heard hymns being sung. 


Hannah: Where are the angels?


Narrator: She knew only angels could sound so beautiful. After the music ended, the minister showed the children a special painting.  He called it an Illumination.  The painting seemed to come alive when he lit the candles behind it.  He told the story of the special baby born in Bethlehem who brought light into the world just like the candles behind the painting.  Hannah’s eyes were opened wide while she and the other children listened. Brother Ettwein continued telling the children more of the story of the birth of Jesus.


Br. Ettwein: And here is our special decoration. We call it the Putz.


Narrator: Hannah and the other children leaned forward to get a better look at the small Christmas village decoration. Seeing the characters amongst the greenery helped the children to understand the story. 


Br. Ettwein: There is one more Christmas surprise!  


Narrator: As they were leaving each child was given a piece of cake.  Hannah smelled her cake.  It smelled warm and spicy.  She could hardly wait to taste the little piece of gingerbread.  She and William and all the other children from the mill quietly ate their cake.  It was the best thing the children had ever tasted. Soon the sun was beginning to set, and it was time to walk back to the mill. Lanterns were needed to light the way through the woods.  Hannah thought of all the wonderful new things she had seen and heard today– the musical instruments, the singing, the painting with the candles flickering behind it, the story of the special baby, the putz and the gingercake. It was the best Christmas she had ever had. Mama and Papa were waiting in the doorway and they smiled when they saw Hannah and William and the others.  Mama gave her children a small supper of bread and milk, but they were too excited to eat.  They tried to remember every detail of what they had seen and heard in the Gemeinhaus and especially about the gingercake.  They wanted Mama and Papa to know everything about their day in Bethabara.


Mama: Time for bed.  You have had a very special day today.


Narrator: A tired little Hannah snuggled into her blanket.  She still had a smile on her face as she drifted off to sleep.  The wind was howling outside but Hannah was warm inside because she was dreaming of Christmas at Bethabara.



James: This story is inspired from excerpts from Adelaide Friis’ Records of the Moravians in North Carolina.


Seth: “December, 1760: On Christmas Day the English children from the mill came to see our Christmas decoration.  They were so poorly clad that it would have moved a stone to pity.  We told them why we rejoiced like children and gave to each a piece of cake.  In Bethania, Brother Ettwein held a Lovefeast for the 24 children there.  At the close of the service each received a pretty Christmas verse and a ginger cake, the first they had ever seen.” 

James: This has been a Moravian Mornings’ holiday special. Thanks for listening. Merry Christmas, and Happy holidays.


Christmas by the Fire: https://www.purple-planet.com

A, Lobe Den Herren: From Mit Freuden zart: Moravian Chorales for Band © Moravian Music Foundation. Used by permission.


Sound Effects (Freesound.org):

Boot stomp; soft by Australopithecusman

Choir_unisono_simple_melody by uair01

Church bell by organicmanpl

Cold howling wind by alanmckinney

Indoor Footsteps by dkiller2204

Kids chatter Primary School Birmingham, UK by sbyandiji

Walking and Opening Door by chris.t

Wind at door howling by Bosk1