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Secrets of Old Salem | By Frances Hasty

Enjoy the simple evergreen decorations on the doorways and in the windows of the homes and shops along Main Street. Treat yourself to a delectable sugar cookie baked in the brick oven at Winkler Bakery. Sing carols to the accompaniment of a restored 1800 Tannenberg organ.

It’s Christmastime at Old Salem, the restored Moravian congregation town founded in 1766. Although the season reflects the simpler, more orderly lifestyle of the town founders, it’s a festive and joyous time that is packed with things to see and do.

The town is part of Old Salem Museums & Gardens, which also includes the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (popularly known as MESDA), the Old Salem Children’s Museum and the Old Salem Toy Museum. Sharing the square that is the centerpiece of Old Salem are Home Moravian Church, built in 1800, and historic Salem College.

Some of the scheduled events take place at the historic buildings. Others are held in the spacious and modern visitors center a short walk away.

One of the first and most popular attractions of the holiday season in Old Salem is the Candle Tea, a tradition begun in 1929. It is held at the Single Brothers House but is sponsored by the Women’s Fellowship of Home Moravian Church. Guests are greeted by the welcoming aroma of sugar cake and coffee that they will enjoy along the tour. Carols are sung in the chapel, and in the dining room is a demonstration of the making of beeswax candles using original molds.

The Single Brothers House is a National Historic Landmark built in two sections, the first in 1769 of half-timber construction and the second a brick expansion added in 1786. It was here that unmarried men of the congregation lived and worked. Salem was known as a “trades” town, producing tools, ceramics, furniture, metals and other goods. Some of those trades are demonstrated at the Single Brothers House by workers in period dress using centuries-old practices.

As Christmas draws near, Home Moravian Church will welcome visitors to its Christmas Eve candlelight lovefeast services. The lovefeast is described as a common meal shared by the congregation to commemorate a special occasion. The Christmas service concludes with each worshiper holding a lighted beeswax candle aloft during the closing hymn, a reminder that “Jesus is the Light of the World.”

Music has always been important to the Moravians. Visitors can enjoy the sounds of the prized 1799/1800 Tannenberg organ on Dec. 7 at Gray Auditorium in the visitors center. The organ is said to be the largest surviving pipe organ built by David Tannenberg and underwent a 15-year restoration by Old Salem Museum. The organ was built for and is still owned by Home Moravian Church.

But you don’t have to take part in scheduled events to enjoy Old Salem. Taking in the town is a pleasant and easy tour to do on your own, armed with maps and information obtained at the visitors center. Shops are open for browsing or picking up gifts and souvenirs. Old Salem merchandise, including the multi-pointed Moravian star and beeswax candles, can be purchased at T. Bagge Merchant and other shops. It’s hard to leave without a tin or two of the paper-thin ginger cookies like those made by the early settlers. At Winkler Bakery, built in 1799, delicious yeast breads, sugar cake and cookies are baked in a wood-fired brick oven, just as they were two centuries ago.

A visit to Old Salem should begin with a stop at the visitors center on Old Salem Road, but don’t miss nearby Winston-Salem when you’re in town. Several events are scheduled during December.

Check out:

• Piedmont Craftsmen, one of the South’s finest guilds, at 601 North Trade St., will present a free special exhibit of work by clay artist Lucinda Dalton and jewelry artist Shirley Marriot Dec. 5-31. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Information: www.piedmontcraftsmen.org

• The Stevens Center will present “The Nutcracker” Dec. 6-7 and 11-14. Performances and staging will be by students from the N.C. School of the Arts; choreography is based on the original 19th-century choreography of Lev Ivanov. Information: 336.721.1945 or www.ncarts.edu/stevens_center

• The Reynolda House has several holiday performances scheduled. Information: www.reynoldahouse.org

• In Kernersville, the 22-room mansion Korner’s Folly will be decorated for the season and open to visitors. Information: www.kornersfolly.org

More information about these and other events can be found at www.visitoldsalem.org. Events are subject to change, and it’s wise to check ahead.