Memories of Christmas past

By on December 21, 2016

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How did the town of Lititz celebrate Christmas exactly 125 years ago in 1891?

President Benjamin Harrison was in office and the Wrigley Company was founded in Chicago. That year also saw the birth of celebrities Cole Porter and Fanny Brice.

Ah, to live in the 1800s!

Let’s now step into the Christmas time machine and take a journey back to the Lititz of 1891. Careful now, the roads are paved with dirt and there’s a chance of rain in the air. It’s getting dark, but the shops are still bustling with last-minute shoppers carrying packages of all shapes and sizes.

During this time, virtually anything you needed for your home could be purchased at one of our many downtown stores.

For shoes, you didn’t need to look any further than W. M. Grube’s on Main Street, which carried a full line of footwear for both young and old.

H.E. Miller’s store (at the corner of Main and South Broad streets) offered dates at seven cents a pound; baking raisins at four pounds for 25 cents; oranges starting at 12 cents per dozen; and cranberries at 10 cents per quart. A great variety of China gift ware was also available for purchase, as well as Christmas tree candles priced at only 10 cents a dozen.

Additionally, fresh bread and rolls for your holiday feasts were for sale at J. B. Bowman’s Broad Street Bakery. And don’t forget the Christmas turkey, which was available at a host of places including the East End Grocery.

Then there was Wolle’s “Bee Hive” store located at 122 E. Main St., which carried a full line of steel skates for the kids starting at only 50 cents a pair. There’s also syrup priced at five cents per quart, and a full selection of blankets and quilts. And speaking of keeping warm during those cold winter months, a stop could be made right down the street at A. R. Bomberger, the local dealer of stoves and heaters.

For that cherished timepiece, shoppers flocked to George W. Hepp’s store at 54 E. Main St. There, they could purchase men’s gold watches for only $28; ladies gold-filled watches for $13; and boy’s watches starting at $2.50.

Members of the Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union also got into the holiday spirit that year, and made stops throughout the town leaving flowers at the homes of the sick. This was a “true Christian deed,” the newspaper reported the next week.

Let’s now head east down Main Street and take a look at what happened inside the Lititz Moravian Church that year.

Services began at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. There was a traditional lovefeast with vocal and instrument talent by the choir and children. Last, but not least, was the distribution of lighted wax candles to every child in the church, from the infant to the boy or girl of 15 or 16 years of age.

Then on Christmas Day, the Moravian Church’s morning’s services were held at 10 a.m., at which many heard once again the story of the Babe of Bethlehem preached by the Rev. Moench.

The choir music was also grand, and after church came the Christmas dinner, for which preparations had been in progress for weeks.

On Christmas night, the church was handsomely decorated, looking somewhat different from any previous occasion. Beginning at 7 p.m., the children put on the program “The King’s Birthday,” and for this production a large crown was suspended from the archway over the pulpit recess, adorned with silver and gold paper. From the crown, downward in drapery hung festoons of greens. Then, as the program began, the top of the crown was lighted with wax tapers which created a brilliant and luminous effect.

The music services consisted of recitations, solos, duets and choruses. Toward the end of the program, each child was presented with a half-pound box of candy and an orange.

At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the inside was decorated with colorful greens and laurel. The program by the Sunday school was entitled “Echoes from Bethlehem” and consisted of music, recitations, and verse readings. There was also a curtain that covered the pulpit recess, and after the Rev. Bobst delivered a short sermon, Santa Claus (drawn by reindeer) emerged from the folds of the curtain and drove around the platform. His sleigh was quickly emptied, and, as fast as he appeared, off he went for another load of candy and oranges, all to the great thrill and wonder of the children.

At Lititz Evangelical Church, the inside was decorated with evergreens, and on each side of the pulpit stood a Christmas tree. A painting of the Nativity created by Thomas Kissinger adorned the pulpit recess, and while the pastor was making his address, a boat appeared as if it was moving in the water at the bottom of the canvas. To everyone’s further astonishment, the vessel was filled with a load of candy and oranges for the kids.

It was a happy and festive time in Lititz in 1891; and the spirit of the season is still very much alive in town today, as it was 125 years ago.

May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year!

Cory Van Brookhoven is president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and has authored several books on topics involving Lancaster County history, including Lititz. He welcomes your comments at

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