Putzes Picture
Early settlers coming
from Germany to America brought with them many traditions. One of these traditions was to create a religious scene to teach their children about the birth of Jesus during Christmas. This scene was known as a putz, a 16th century word meaning "decorate". Putzes were erected mostly in Moravian communities. This custom generally did not extend into non-Moravian communities. When other communities like Reading and Allentown did construct a putz between 1860 and 1885, it was said they were designed in the Moravian fashion.

The very first putzes depicted the Nativity scene. Figures were made from clay, tin, or wood. One of the earliest known mentions of a putz was made by Peter Fetter in 1782. He carved a cow from a piece of wood for his putz. In early colonial Moravian homes of Bethlehem, the putzes were constructed at the base of the Christmas tree. By the 1800's, the putz could be found on the mantel, on tables, or any other areas that could be viewed by all. It was said that the putz took longer to decorate than the family Christmas tree, sometimes as long as two weeks or more.

Below is an account of the importance of the putz first published in 1918 by Elizabeth Myers in a book entitled A Century of Moravian Sisters-

"The 'putz' is so distinctive of a Moravian Christmas that is merits a special word. It was, and is, an elaborate miniature landscape built under and around the Christmas tree, and telling the Christmas story, from the appearance of the angelic choir to the shepherds where they were tending their sheep, to the manger with its Holy Family, and the adoration of the Magi! This was brilliantly lighted with the beeswax candles in tin holders, in greater or lesser degree. Much ingenuity was shown and beautiful effects obtained. The modern putz is the same thing, greatly elaborated with electric lighting effects, painted backgrounds and even victrolas hidden under the moss and playing the Christmas songs.

Everyone was glad to show the results of their labor, so 'putz parties' became popular. They called it 'going to see the putzes' and probably this first brought the boys and girls together. Before the town 'opened up' in 1844, the sexes did not mingle at all in this way, but after that the bars were let down somewhat, and although very strict rules were made the boys did go out with the girls. They would help drive the cows home, and on Sunday go to see the wax works together, and walk down Bartow's path along the canal, for wild flowers. But the putzes provided the entering wedge.

Putzes - Barn/House Putz
Barn/House Putz
One of the chief decorations of the putz was the shepherd scene, and plenty of white sheep were always placed upon the green moss, on a miniature hillside or in a tiny meadow. These sheep were also made in the Sisters' House, by one Benigna Ettwein, familiarly known as Benel. Kindly, bighearted Benel, whose fate it is to bring a laugh whenever her name is mentioned! But a laugh may be a very eloquent epitaph and so it is for her. Benel's sheep were wonderful to behold! They were shaped out of clay, then cotton was wrapped around them, four matches were stuck in to represent legs, and a splash of Chinese vermilion was daubed on the end where the nose belonged. She also made chickens out of tow and glued chicken feathers on them, and both chickens and sheep appeared on the putzes of her friends."

Putzes were also designed on a grand scale by the old timers of the community. The putz had mountains and valleys, villages, fields, lakes, and tumbling waterfalls. Smaller versions were also erected on a white table top cloth. The putz consisted of evergreens, wax angels, candles, bears, lions, ducks, Noah's Ark carved out of wood, and little villages with a church.

Today a putz is a decorated miniature scale village constructed of old or new ceramic buildings such as Department 56. You could decorate with trees, snow, fences, animals, a train set- it is all up to your imagination. Colonial Sense would like to bring to you how to decorate a church article bought with little money to assemble into your putz for this Christmas season.
Putzes - Feather Tree Putz
Feather Tree Putz

Source: Research & text by Bryan Wright; Church How-To by Carol Wright

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