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Putzing around the Lehigh Valley

By Ed Courrier

Special to The Press

Putzes, miniature seasonal productions, often accompanied by a recorded narrative and light show, tell the Nativity story through the use of ornate, handcrafted figurines, along with model replicas of buildings from Biblical times through present day.

Putzes in the Historic Bethlehem Museum sites feature a Nativity scene. Many include Bethlehem’s first log cabin and pay tribute to the Native Americans the Moravians interacted with.

Historic Bethlehem Museum sites are accessible through Jan. 9 to those who have purchased Trees of Historic Bethlehem tickets.

The Moravian Museum Gemeinhaus, 66 W. Church St., Bethlehem, has a collection of putz figurines on display in a cabinet in the front parlor.

The nearby Single Sisters’ House on West Church boasts several displays among cinematic-themed Christmas trees.

The main putz, on the first floor, prominently features the Moravian Church and village of Herrnhut in Saxony, where those of the faith found refuge against persecution on Count Nicholas Louis von Zinzendorf’s estate. A Nativity scene is nestled under pieces of driftwood.

Several wide windowsills in the Single Sisters’ House sport a mini-putz with a Nativity scene. Visitors can even find Nemo in one windowsill putz.

New is a remarkable display that fills a large room on the second floor.

There were additional Putz Trails in the Bethlehem area that do not require a Trees Pass to visit.

The three church-supported displays ended just ahead of Christmas Eve.

Each presentation concluded with a spotlight on a present day model of their place of worship, from the 1803 Central Moravian Church, to the East Hills Moravian Church built in 1957.

The Central Moravian Church Christmas Putz is annually hosted at 40 W. Church St. in the lower level of Moravian Academy’s Christian Education Building.

Central Moravian volunteer coordinator Richard Miller explained how the neighborhood home displays evolved into a centrally-located one at the Visitor’s Bureau on Main Street. In 1937, some 14,000 people overwhelmed the site.

“The next year it went to the hotel [Hotel Bethlehem] and 32,000 people came and wore out the carpet and their welcome,” Miller continued.

In 1942, the putz was moved to its current home in the C.E. Building.

Nativity figurines, buildings and other donated pieces are placed among live moss and other greenery.

A Star and Candle Shoppe was located across the hall from the putz.

The Edgeboro Moravian Church, 645 Hamilton Ave., Bethlehem, shared the story of Jesus’ birth in sights and sounds with its ambitious putz.

Church member and volunteer Arthur Sergent has been setting up the Christmas putz there for around 25 years. Sergent described how he and other volunteers collect around 21 milk crates of moss in late October. These get placed on top of wet newspaper that is draped over boxes and chicken wire.

As with the other displays, the putz at East Hills Moravian Church, 1830 Butztown Road, has various items sprinkled throughout that “don’t belong.” East Hills volunteer Linda Marsh explains, “Anomalous items in the putz is to get the children, to catch their attention, and then to have them look closely at the putz.

“While they are looking for the things that don’t belong, they see the things that do belong.”

Those with sharp eyes will notice various Disney characters and a Thomas the Tank Engine hiding in the greenery.

The Moravian Historical Society’s putz is open through Jan. 9 in the Gray Cottage adjacent to the 1740-1743 Whitefield House Museum, 214 E. Center St., Nazareth.

Here the story begins with the Annunciation and ends with the holy family fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s wrath.

According to Operations Manager Aubrey Baranowski, circa 1850s hand-carved items from the Krause/Morris family putz and more contemporary pieces from the Sullivan family putz are included in the Gray Cottage display.

Across the room are models of historic Lehigh Valley buildings, including the Whitefield House and Gray Cottage. These were built with basswood by Bethlehem resident Robert Wendler who died in 2004. The cottage itself is an original log cabin built by the Moravians in 1740.

For information, go to moravianhistory.org.

Edgeboro Moravian Church volunteer Arthur Sergent has been setting up scenes for the Christmas putz for more than 25 years.
PRESS PHOTOS BY ED COURRIER This dramatically lit Nativity scene is in the Edgeboro Moravian Church putz.
The putz on the first floor in the Single Sisters' House features this Nativity scene nestled under driftwood at left. The majority of the display tells the story of how the Moravians found refuge with the patronage of Count Zinzendorf in the village of Herrnhut.
Several wide windowsills in the Single Sisters' House sport a mini putz such as this Nativity scene.
Finding Nemo in his own putz may come as a surprise to some visitors to the Single Sisters' House.
Diane Shaw with “The Moravian Christmas Putz” by Vangie Roby Sweitzer, an illustrated history of the Moravians' holiday displays. According to Central Moravian's vice president of elders, portions of the profit from Star and Candle Shoppe sales are donated to a Christian education endowment fund in Capt. Christopher Seifert's memory. Seifert was a casualty during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Hand-carved figurines of Joseph and a pregnant Mary travel toward Bethlehem in the Central Moravian Church putz.
The Central Moravian putz starts the story with Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesying about the coming of Christ.
Aubrey Baranowski staffs the Gray Cottage putz in Nazareth.
As with most of the other large displays, the East Hills putz begins the story in Biblical times and continues it through present day. A scale model of the church is at right.