Our antique division was lucky this weekend to find two wooden Putz or Christmas Houses at an auction nearby. Because they com from this area, you would think it might be easier to find these little beauties,,,but it has been more difficult than we imagined, So we felt really fortunate to find 2 in one lot.
Weeks before the Christmas holidays, the children in 19th century Bethlehem, Nazareth, and other Moravian communities along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, made up little parties to go on expeditions in search of moss, ferns, gravel, and bright-hued stones to be used in Putz building. These excursions constituted one of the most enjoyable features of an old custom.
TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY RARE PUTZ LUFFA TREE; AN IDEAL PUTZ ACCESSORY FOR A WIDE VARIETY OF ITEMS, FROM FARM BUILDINGS AND ANIMALS, TO HOUSES. LUFFA (A NATURAL FIBROUS PRODUCT MADE FROM A GOURD) WAS USED IN THE EARLY PUTZ SCENES OF THE SAME ERA WAY BEFORE BOTTLEBRUSH TREES BECAME AVAILABLE.
A Putz was a Pennsylvania-Dutch miniature landscape, with varied figures, structures and animals. Some of these scenes were made on a grand scale; but smaller ones, equally pretty, and not so difficult to manage, were arranged at the foot of the Christmas tree. The tree was placed on a table, or, better still, was set in a large dry goods box with boards placed across the top of the box, as a foundation for the Putz.
The Moravian Putz probably had the same origin as the Christmas crib that was set up in Roman Catholic churches at Christmastide. The latter is a more or less elaborate embellishment representing the stable at Bethlehem, with figures of the Virgin and Holy Child, St. Joseph, the three kings of the Orient, an ox, a donkey, sheep, and shepherds. The custom of erecting cribs in churches began during the thirteenth century in the Franciscan order; even today Christmas cribs are found in many Catholic houses.
The Putz is the same idea secularized, and probably originated in Germany—the source of many good old Christmas customs—at the time of the Reformation. The Moravians brought the custom of Putz building from the fatherland on their immigration to America, and continued the tradition through passing generations. It is probable that on Christmas Eve, 1741, when Count Zinzendorf, named the Moravian settlement on the Lehigh, Bethlehem, a Putz adorned the little log building in which he and his brethren were first assembled.