One of the traditions in the Triad that signals the holidays are upon us is the Moravian Candle Tea held in Old Salem.
In the latest installment of our series Carolina Curious, listener Lydia Ingram wants to know why exactly it’s called a “tea” when instead, it’s a sweet coffee that visitors enjoy during this seasonal event. We take a look back to find out.
The Candle Tea has been a tradition for over 90 years now. It was started by the women of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem.
The event was created to celebrate the birth of Christ while supporting the church’s outreach mission. During a Candle Tea, you work your way through what’s known as the Single Brothers’ House in Old Salem while learning about Moravian history. In what was once the kitchen for the men who lived there, participants enjoy a piece of sugar cake and a sweet coffee.
So why is it called a tea?
Well, according to church members, in the early 20th century people in Salem would visit one another’s homes to have tea and to see their Christmas decor.
Kae Roberts is a former Candle Tea chair and member of Home Moravian. She says eventually the preferred beverage changed.
“Moravians had a preference from way back that they liked coffee better. So they changed it to being coffee that they drank as they went house to house to look at the decorations that people would have in their homes,” she says.
The name of the event is a nod to the practice of showing hospitality.
“The Home Moravian Church wanted to show that hospitality to the community as part of showing God's love, as the church supported their world missions and local charities," says Roberts. "So they leaned more on the interpretation of the hospitality definition as opposed to a drink.”
In addition to sugar cake and coffee, the evening consists of Moravian hymns, a demonstration on how beeswax candles for the Lovefeast — another Moravian tradition — are created, and you’ll see a large putz or diorama of the town of Salem as it looked a century ago; there’s also a reading of the nativity story.
The first Candle Tea was held in 1929.