Some years ago I researched and wrote this history of the Christmas Eve service at Lititz Moravian Church and have updated it as needed. In recent weeks I've had occasion to share it with several folks and have decided that the easiest way to make it available is to post it here on my blog.
The History of the Lititz Moravian Congregation records that, just a few months after the village was named in 1756, the small group of Lititz brothers and sisters living in the Pilgerhaus celebrated Christmas Eve by holding a Lovefeast. From that humble beginning has evolved an elaborate worship service beloved by all who participate and attend. The congregation presents the service six times each year during the weeks before Christmas as a gift to the community.
Research into the history of the service, popularly termed the Christmas Vigil, yields fascinating results. More than thirty odes (the order of service with hymns, anthems, and scripture readings) designated for Christmas Eve can be found in the church archives. The earliest, dated 1765, is an eight-page printed folder detailing portions to be sung by two different choirs, soloists, children, and congregation. The congregation’s sections are quite short, with most of the music provided by choirs and soloists.
This pattern continues through the remainder of the eighteenth century, with the children given an increasing role as the years go on. And it is the children who, in 1792, sing for the first time in English. One of the verses they sang, “Hail Infant new-born, whom the angels adore,” is familiar to our present choir in an anthem setting by Moravian composer David Moritz Michael. This anthem is not, however, part of our current Vigil ode.