Why Do People Put Stars on Their Houses?

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Have you ever driven past a house or barn with a star on its facade? At the time, you might have glanced at the token and thought it was just a simple decoration, but the symbol can actually have an important meaning behind it.

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In December 2020, Niagara community newspaper ​The Voice of Pelham​ reported that the stars are specifically known as "barn stars." They tend to feature five points and are often secured onto the front of houses and barns or at the top of a gable (the part of a wall that encloses the end of a pitched roof). According to ​Barn: Form and Function of an American Icon​ by Susan Carol Hauser, barn stars began to appear around 1850.

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A barn star on Pennsylvania Route 283.

Barn stars are normally found on the homes of Pennsylvania Dutch people (aka people from Germany's Rhine area). This can include Lutherans, Mennonites, and Amish.

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While the exact origin of barn stars is unknown — though some say they were inspired by Chinese "good luck stars" — they are usually seen as symbols of good luck. In the past, they were often painted to look like quilt patches and featured intricate designs. Some also call the stars "hex signs," but according to Hauser, folk art experts see the two as separate. Barn stars are typically painted directly onto a wall, while hex signs are painted on other materials and hung to represent Pennsylvania Dutch folk culture.

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A barn north of Ohio featuring a quilt-like star.

During the Civil War, barn stars experienced an increase in popularity, though people don't always use them as symbols of good luck. Some builders have actually used the stars as a method of signing their work, while others see them simply as decoration or a sign of "welcome." The number of points on the star can signify how formal a space is and even the color can have a specific meaning. For instance, blue can mean peace, while black can signify protection.

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Interestingly, in December 2020, a rumor spread stating that a five-pointed star on a home signals that the residents are swingers (people who swap sexual partners or engage in group sex). Fact-checking website Snopes went on to prove that this rumor is false.

Where to buy barn stars:

Barn stars are easy to find and can be purchased through retailers like Overstock, Wayfair, and Etsy. Prices can range anywhere from $10 to over $100, depending on the material used and whether or not the star is handmade.

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