Excerpted from our Spring, 2010 edition of the Historical Journal
Moravians – The Easter People
by Charlene Van Brookhoven
Throughout the world Moravians are known as “the Easter people”. The tradition of Easter sunrise services within Moravian congregations was begun in Herrnhut, Germany in the year 1732 as a meaningful way to greet Easter dawn.
Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, is the day celebrated in preparation for “giving up something for Lent”. In Lititz, as well as other Pa. Dutch communities, it is also known as Fasnacht Day, the day when thousands of fat-laden, no holes doughnuts are consumed.
The first Easter dawn service in Lititz was held April 14, 1759 in the “old” St. James graveyard on West Center Street ending in “the new graveyard on the hill behind the Moravian Church”. This is God’s Acre, the area of the cemetery reserved for members of the Moravian congregation. On Easter morning, 1766, the Moravian community of Lititz was awakened by the sound of trombone music being played by a small group of church men. Five years later, December 4, 1771, the Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir was organized and made its first public appearance at the Christmas Eve Vigil Service. On Easter morning 1772, before the light of day, the trombone choir played hymns announcing the Resurrection to the sleeping villagers.
The Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir gathers at 4 a.m. , breaks into small groups, and strolls through town playing beautiful Moravian hymns. At 6 a.m. the Easter Dawn Service begins in the church sanctuary. After readings from the Holy Week Manual, the worshippers silently proceed to the cemetery. Just as the sun comes up over the eastern horizon, the service comes to an end.