History of the Fairyland of Candles (Part 1)

By on April 18, 2018

This is the first in a three-part series of historical vignettes leading up the 175th Fairyland of Candles celebration on July 4th in the Lititz Springs Park

It all began as a fundraiser; and now, 175 years later, tens of thousands of people from across the world flock to Lititz each year to witness the Fairyland of Candles as part of the Independence Day day-long celebration.

In 1843, the Fairyland of Candles became the new attraction that made the annual event even more unique. Inspired by the familiar portion of the Christmas Vigil service held by the Moravians each holiday season, prior to this date, there was a smaller candle illumination at the Moravian Brother’s House in 1793 for “joy at the return of peace,” as well as at the Children’s Festival at Moravian church square. However, the first illumination which took place in the park on July 4th, 1843, was by far the grandest affair ever to occur in Lititz at that time.

Taken in the late 1890s, this image is one  of the earliest known photos of preparing the park for the 4th of July celebration.

Describing the first illumination in 1843, Francis W. Christ, Chairman of the Springs Committee that year wrote:

“July Fourth was a great day at the springs. We celebrated with a public supper and illumination. We did not think of doing anything extra; get to work on Monday in planning what to do; tried to get subscribers for the supper; but people were a little loathe. Finally, we succeeded in obtaining about 50 names at 25 cents; children 12-½. The fourth came, and we got the most splendid illumination that Lititz ever produced. Instead of 60 guests to the supper, there were at least 100; in fact, the younger men who acted as committee of arrangements got no supper.

The refreshments were coffee and lemonade. Coffee was boiled by Rosel Bruner and Lindy, two of the last regular occupants of the Sister’s House. Among the luxuries we had was one half bushel of bullheart cherries brought by Abraham Lichtenthaeler. We had about 400 candles in all, and distributed at the headend of the spring on posts of the fence from the fountain to top of the hill, the ochers in pyramids. Everybody was out except the principal of Linden Hall and the girls; who thought it was too cold.

John Beck, standing at the head end of a 96-foot long table, gave an address and then read in German the text of the Declaration of Independence that was printed on July 9, 1776, in a German-language Lancaster newspaper. Later in the evening, the church choir, with full orchestra, was stationed on the terrace above the Springs head. Rev. Peter Wolle’s famous 4th of July piece “Come Joyful Hallelujahs Raise” was performed by the full choir of music with good effort. We were honored by the Manheim Guards, who passed through on their way from Ephrata. This was a magnificent company of soldiers which added much to the splendor of the celebration. Upon the whole, I never assisted in anything that seemed to give such general satisfaction as this Fourth of July celebration. We realized about $12 over expenses, which we appropriated in building a summer house on the hill at the oak trees.”

From this celebration forward, conditions of the park were improved as swampy areas were drained, walkways were constructed, and many trees were planted. In addition to the park’s only entrance which was originally placed facing Maple Street, another entrance was created with a narrow fenced-in path from the west side of North Broad Street to West Main Street.

Anatomy of an Icon

Using a special formula of beef tallow, beeswax, and other in­gredients, the Moravian sacristans fashioned the original candles used in the first celebration. Later, William Light and his family took over this duty, and molded the same mixture around sturdy wicks. With the death of Light in 1942, local candy maker Harry Regennas would assume the new responsibility. By the mid-1950s, tallow became more scarce (especially since about 500 pounds were needed each year) so, reluctantly, the use of more commercial wax candles was introduced. Today, the placing and lighting of the thousands of candles is considered a rite of pas­sage by local children and scouts each year.  

Lititz candy maker Harry Regennas took on the task of making each candle for the celebration after William Light’s death in 1942.


Stay tuned next month for the second installment in this series!

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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