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November 11, 2021 6 minute READ

A Tale of Twin Cities

tags Local Flavor
locations Winston-Salem

Much of Winston-Salem dazzles, especially during the holiday season.

Intricate stars twinkle from cottage doorways, behind the opaque attic windows of bakeries and blacksmith shops, under the arched ceiling of a covered wooden footbridge, and amidst the remnants of crimson and gold foliage lining cobblestone sidewalks. Each star dazzles with precisely 26 points. Their individual geometric forms reflect the complex symmetry of nature while their random, dense scattering across this neighborhood allows anyone strolling the streets at dusk to make sense of their groupings through associations and symbolism like ancient astronomers naming constellations in the night sky.

These celestial replicas, however, aren’t nearly as old as the district they occupy. What’s today become known as the Moravian Star dates back “only” to 1820 when a child in Germany fashioned the first one as a decoration to celebrate both Christmas and his school’s 50th anniversary.

The star soon became closely tied to faraway Salem, North Carolina, a Moravian community founded in 1766. Many of Salem’s emigrant settlers kept alive the cultural traditions of their ancestral homes in the Central European Kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia, while the Moravian Church, which then owned the charter to Salem, shared detailed records and correspondence with their mother institutions across the ocean.

The Moravian Church’s divestment of interests in Salem led to an eventual consolidation with its booming neighbor and burgeoning industrial hub, Winston. In 1913, the towns embarked on a new era under the moniker of Winston-Salem. By the beginning of the next decade, newly united Winston-Salem was – for a brief period and the only time in its history – the largest city in North Carolina.

Walkway to Old SalemToday, Moravian stars are found throughout Winston-Salem and are welcome harbingers of the holiday season; however, their ubiquitous and enduring presence in the district that’s now referred to as “Old Salem” is especially emblematic of how close Salem’s Moravian past is to its beating heart.

It’s a neighborhood that’s held onto its historical identity, to say the least. In fact, Salem literally lives its past. Visit Old Salem Museums & Gardens and walk among operational businesses in their original settings, including the 200-year-old Winkler Bakery, whose traditional ginger cookies serve as proof that timeless recipes really do exist, and The Zevely Inn, which is fully restored to its 19th-century appearance and listed on the National Historic Register.

Find it in Winston-SalemOld Salem Museum & Gardens will host Salem Saturdays at Christmas, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., each week starting November 27 and lasting through December 18 so make plans now to attend. Holiday tickets must be purchased in-person on the day of your tour and cost $20 per adult and $12 per student while children ages three and under receive free admission. Admission includes access to all open buildings and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. At this time, all tours are self-guided.

A few other events and sites of interest within the historic district yet independent of Old Salem Museum & Gardens are Home Moravian Church, Salem College, and the Cobblestone Farmers Market.

Home Moravian Church offers a popular Christmas Candle Tea service, which is free and open to all. It will take place in Salem Square from noon – 4 p.m., Saturday, December 4. Salem College is rich in its own historical significance, too. Founded by Moravian missionaries in 1772, it is the oldest educational institution for girls and women in the United States.

Farmers MarketThe Cobblestone Farmers Market is a gathering of dozens of local farmers and artisans from across the Piedmont and Foothills of Northwest North Carolina. As one of the largest regional farmer’s markets in the state, it recently outgrew its previous location inside Old Salem and has now found a permanent home just across the road at 1007 South Marshall Street, Winston-Salem. It is open 8:30 a.m. – noon each Saturday now through the end of the year with the exception of the weekend after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

As time has moved forward in Winston-Salem, it’s only fitting that one of the city’s newest and most beloved holiday traditions carries on the legacy of light kindled by the shining Moravian star lanterns filling the streets and windows of Salem for the past two centuries.

The Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights is a drive-through Christmas extravaganza. Housed in nearby Clemmons, just a few minutes outside of Winston-Salem, the Festival showcases one million sparkling LED lights making up scores of whimsical roadside displays and breathtaking arches and gateways. This family car ride is sure to be a seasonal highlight as you weave through, underneath, and among glowing lights along the winding 5-mile path of Tanglewood Park. A holiday craft gift shop and even S’moresville, featuring DIY s’mores kits and a toasty bonfire await at the end of your journey.

The Festival of Lights opens Friday, November 12, and lasts through New Year’s Day 2022. This attraction is so popular, especially on weekends, that entry lines may be backed up to a four-hour wait so plan your visit accordingly. Admission is $20-23 per vehicle, and the show is open from 6 – 11 p.m. each evening aside from New Year’s Eve when it closes one hour early.

The Nutcracker performed by the UNCSA in Winston-SalemAnother iconic Winston-Salem holiday activity enjoyed by locals and visitors alike is the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ annual presentation of The Nutcracker. The performance is a collaboration of the university’s Dance, Music, and Design & Production schools and is an unforgettable seasonal spectacle led by immensely talented students. It returns to live audiences in the gorgeous Stevens Center in Downtown Winston-Salem, December 10-19.  Image courtesy of the UNC School of the Arts

No light-themed holiday travel feature would be complete, of course, without a mention of an official Christmas Tree Lighting! Winston-Salem’s Downtown Tree Lighting ceremony will take place Saturday, December 4, following the Winston-Salem Jaycees Holiday Parade. The parade kicks off at 4 p.m. from the intersection of Poplar and 4th Streets and ends at Corpening Plaza, which is where you’ll want to be for an up-close view of the tree as its lights usher in the Downtown Christmas season.

As we enter the “holiday” portion of fall, discover plenty to do in these Twin Cities of Winston and Salem. Whether you take part in its history and heritage or forge a more modern tradition, you’ll find yourself awash in the welcoming glow of lights new and old.

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