Christmas in Lititz

Hometown pride is particularly evident in Lititz at this time of the year. Vintage decorations, a Nativity in the town’s square, thousands of twinkling lights, festively decorated store windows, Moravian stars and history dating to the town’s founding in 1742 provide the backdrop for Lititz’s family-friendly community events. Here, we share Lititz at this most joyous time of the year, as captured by Donald Reese, who has become Lititz’s unofficial/official photographer.

Twenty-five years ago, Lititz became the focus of national attention when the American Civil Liberties Union issued a notice on December 17, 1993, that the Nativity in the town square – perceived as public property – had to be removed by December 24 or the ACLU would have no choice but to begin the litigation process. As a result, a 36-hour protest took place on December 23 and 24, drawing thousands from near and far, despite the frigid temperatures. A petition, signed by 7,000 people, was presented to borough council. In the end, research saved the Nativity. Records showed that the Nativity was not being displayed on public property – in actuality, the square was still owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation. The Lititz Area Manger Preservation Society (LAMPS), which was established to further protect the Nativity, assumed ownership of the Nativity early in 1994. One of LAMPS first deeds was to refurbish the Nativity’s figurines, which made their first appearance in 1976. The project was completed in the fall, and the Nativity was rededicated on November 30. LAMPS then relinquished responsibility for the Nativity to the church.

The Moravian Star. The roots of this beloved symbol of Advent and the Christmas season date back to the 14th century, when Jan Hus and his followers sought religious freedom in Moravia and Bohemia (now parts of the Czech Republic). Accused of heresy, he was arrested and burned at the stake in 1415. Hus’s followers eventually found a safe refuge in Saxony thanks to Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. On his land, they established the village of Herrnhut. Legend has it that in an effort to explain a geometry concept, polyhedron, a teacher at the Moravian Boys School in Niesky, Germany (part of Saxony), created a unique paper star to illustrate his lesson. Students followed suit, and their creations became a sensation – people were intrigued by them. Christian Madsen, a student at the Niesky school, created the ultimate star in 1820. His star included 110 points. As the school was celebrating its 50th anniversary, it included Madsen’s star in its Christmas decorations. In 1880, Pieter Verbeek, who was a graduate of the school, opened a bookstore in Herrnhut and began selling the stars, which had come to symbolize the Advent season in the Moravian Church. The stars were so successful that Verbeek registered a patent for them in 1925. His son, Harry, carried the venture a step further when he launched the Herrnhut Star Factory, which conducted business on a worldwide basis. It operated until World War II, when it was destroyed by fire. The East German government reopened the factory and operated it for a brief time but turned it over to the Moravian Church in the early 50s. Today, the factory is known as the Abraham Durninger Company. Lititz is home to a source for Moravian Stars – the Moravian Mission Gift Shop (2 Church Avenue), which is filled with stars of all sizes and made from everything from plastic to glass. Proceeds from the shop’s sales benefit the Lititz Moravian Congregation’s mission work, both locally and internationally.

Lititz Moravian Congregation will host six Christmas Vigil Services on December 16, 23 and 24. Depending upon availability of tickets, they are open to the public. Visit lititzmoravian.org for details.

Santa and Mrs. Claus play an integral role in the annual Lititz Hometown Christmas celebration being held December 8. In addition to visiting with the Clauses, kids take part in the annual scavenger hunt that is held in the downtown area. Visit Facebook.com/lititzhometownchristmas for details.

Star-enhanced street lights and the holiday decor of the General Sutter Inn and Bulls Head Public House are reflected on an icy Main Street.

Donald Reese … In His Own Words

1. Where did you grow up, go to school, etc.?

I was born and raised in Akron and graduated from Ephrata High School. My wife, Debra, and I have a daughter, Toriana. Growing up, I had no interest in photography until I was out of school a couple of years and a friend asked if I wanted to go halves on a camera. I said sure, why not, and almost immediately people started telling me I had a great eye for composition and subject matter.

2. Tell us about your photography.

My photography includes nature and scenic images, light painting, infrared cemetery images and just about anything that catches my eye. I have always felt blessed by what I can only refer to as God’s guiding hand. That may sound crazy, but I have had many instances where there is more going on than mere luck. I used to do slide shows for large groups, and almost every time I would start to introduce myself and my work, I would feel this emotional wave coming over me because I knew the images were a result of something bigger than myself.

3. Did you study photography in college, or are you self-taught?

I, basically, got where I am today by learning as I went, looking at lots of images and working with and around talented photographers who shared their insights with me. I worked with Greg Heisey who was an excellent local wedding photographer, as well as Larry Lefever, a Lititz-based photographer who introduced me to “painting with light,” which is part of the technique I use in many of the Lititz images. Most everything I shoot is done on a tripod, using a tablet to control my camera, a flash to light the parts of the scene I want to highlight and time. Using the tablet, I can venture almost 100 yards from the camera, still fire the shutter and flash, and then look at the result instantly without running back to my camera.

4. You, obviously, shoot in all sorts of weather conditions and at all times of the day and night …

I love stormy weather, and that includes snowstorms, pouring rain and whatever dramatic light I can find. I am often practically alone as I brave the nasty weather to find beautiful scenes. I use an umbrella on a pole that shields my tripod and camera in bad weather, but even with my setup, shooting in the rain is just downright miserable. Photography for me is about the whole experience, and looking back at an image can instantly transport me to that moment in time.

I have many memories of shooting in Lititz, from 4-degree winter weather where my gloved hands hurt so bad I could hardly continue to shoot, to driving there and praying I would make it when there was a snow emergency issued – I was determined to get some shots in a foot-and-a-half of snow. I also have wonderful memories of the many downtown people like Gaylord Poling of The Tiger’s Eye who was always willing to share my images on the downtown Facebook page and allow everyone to enjoy my work.

5. How do you find your subject matter, notably the out-of-the-way
farms, etc.?

I literally just drive, look and always have my camera on the seat ready to shoot in an instant. It is not unusual for me to put 100 miles on my vehicle in a day when I am out shooting. This story is about Lititz, but I am also known for my Amish and Lancaster County shots, which I have always felt blessed to live among.

6. You have come to be regarded as the unofficial/official photographer of Lititz. How did you come to do so much photography in and around Lititz? What inspires you about Lititz?

There is something about Lititz that is hard to completely put into words. I can’t tell you how many times people have said my work reminds them of Thomas Kinkade, and I love creating images that have a dreamy quality to them that seems to transport you back to a simpler, more nostalgic time. The Lititz shop windows are decorated with such care, and they are so beautiful. Many times after I am done shooting, I will sit along Main Street on a snowy winter night, listening to Christmas music emanating from the Lititz Mutual building as it echoes through the streets, and I wonder to myself, have I been transported back in time?

One thing I seem to like is cool verses warm and seeing the cold blue outside and the warm inviting inside glow that gives the viewer a unique cozy feeling. The residents of Lititz love their town, and they completely support activities like the Christmas carol sing at the park for example. All these small things come together to help make it a very special town that sets it apart. One example of friendliness in this photo series is the shot taken outside Cafe Chocolate at Christmas time. There was an empty table out front, so I went across the street to Aaron’s Books, and the owner gladly offered me a collection of Christmas classics to put on the table to enhance the shot. Only in Lititz do you get a warm reception like that.

7. Is your work available for purchase at any local galleries or shops?

I do not currently have any place you can see my images except on my website, reesephoto.me. Prints of anything I have taken are available by contacting me there.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Thanks, Don. You have been an inspiration to me since the first time I met you. You have a rare and wonderful gift from God, and I, and so many others have been blessed over the years by your sharing them.
    Greg Heisey

  2. Your photos are beautiful and make me so homesick for the Christmas events and the beauty of Lititz.
    I worked at Moravian Manor for 40 years before retiring to south Florida. I love your comments about the history of the Moravian Church, I am guessing many Lititz residents learned something from this article.
    Please continue to post your gorgeous art.

  3. Just a few notes….it was a 72 hour peaceful protest. My mom was the organizer of the event, restoration of the nativity, and founder of LAMPS. She also organized the celebration the following year. Just as an fyi.

  4. My sister and I want to make a trip to Lititz this Wednesday and we are wondering if the Christmas decorations are up. Thank you

    • Hi there, I would recommend reaching out directly to Lititz at 717-626-6332 for information on their holiday decorations. Thanks!

  5. This is so cool. I just moved here in august and im am looking forward to the holidays. I love Lititz. Everyone is so friendly. I live a block away from the park and find my self sitting with the ducks and talking its fun.