I was in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. Some of you have already read about the travel drama from a previous post so I won’t go through that again.
As we were tooling around Lancaster, PA, I noticed signs to Lititz, PA. Just seeing the name of the neighboring town brought back a great memory.
I don’t know the year but I do know it was one of those years we were touring “The Young Messiah.” I know a lot of you saw those tours and if you did, I’d love for you to share some of your memories of those days.
“The Young Messiah” would usually kick off Thanksgiving weekend. Many years, I would have Thanksgiving dinner and then leave for the first stop of the tour. We would rehearse on Friday and then the first performance would usually be on Saturday night. Most of the tours lasted until the middle of December. There were a few days off here and there but we played almost every night. The memories are vivid. I could go on and on about those tours . . . hmm . . . maybe one day I will.
On one particular tour, we had a particular night off and someone from Lititz, PA contacted my office about coming to their town to sing. It was a busy season, so I was reluctant and just wanted some down time.
Then I heard the story.
It seems that someone (named Scrooge?) had driven through Lititz and noticed a manger scene in a public park. You can probably guess what happened next. Apparently, the ACLU got involved and because of this complaint (from someone who wasn’t even a resident of Lititz) the manger scene was removed.
I’m not sure how many Christmases went by without the manger scene in the park. But the residents began to stir and ask questions. People from churches, people that weren’t “church people”, children, and elected officials hearing the voices of their constituents began to wonder why this was allowed to happen.
And so, after some time and, I’m sure some wrangling with “the powers” the people of Lititz were victorious and made plans to reinstate their manger scene to its proper place.
They invited me to come and sing at the dedication service.
It was December in Pennsylvania and, therefore, . . . cold! We set up on a platform in the middle of town and people filled the space all around us.
You could smell the smell of chocolate. Yes, the town of Lititz smells like chocolate! I grew up around towns that smelled of paper mills (not chocolate) and I’ve driven by feed lots in Colorado with the smell of . . . well, definitely NOT chocolate! But I’d never been to a place that had the fragrance of the precious bean in the air. Among other confectioners, the Wilbur Chocolate Company has been generously spilling its delicious fumes into the atmosphere since 1894. Before I left, someone handed me a huge bag of Wilbur Buds – little discs of chocolate candy like I’d never tasted before (or since . . . does anybody know where I could get me some???).
Lititz is a tremendous place with a great history. It was came to be sometime around 1741 by the influence of one Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who was a devout Moravian. The Moravians are one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world and the Count was looking for a place to establish a model Moravian community. While freedom to worship and to live as they interpreted God’s will was the goal, there were strict guidelines. One posted publication declared that “ . . . dancing, taverning, feasting at weddings, christenings or burials was prohibited and those given to such inclinations cannot live in Lititz.”
On a lighter note, it’s said that pretzels were started in Lititz and that the twisted shape of the pretzel is often associated with a child’s arms folded in prayer. OK.
So with the fragrance of coco in the air, we proceeded to dedicate the manger back to its rightful place in the park. The crowd was reverent and quiet, their breath in the cold winter air creating a beautiful haze. Men and women of different faiths and practices, some of no faith (yet) all united as a community to make their voices and hearts known.
I played some carols and we all sang. And then, the crowd dispersed. Back to their homes and lives but richer now. Some probably didn’t even know why, but richer still.
I think Christmas in Lititz was different that year. I know it was for me.