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Bethlehem: Christmas City a natch for Christmas shopping

Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem. (Photo by Craig Roberts Courtesy of ArtsQuest)
Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem. (Photo by Craig Roberts Courtesy of ArtsQuest)

It’s officially the Christmas season in The Christmas City.

Founded by Moravians, the city of Bethlehem was named for the biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ, and so Christmas can be a pretty big deal around town, and a popular time of the year for tourists, shoppers and holiday revelers.

Some major holiday-themed shopping experiences have already started to appear and they will continue through the December.

One of the biggest is Christkindlmarkt, which is now in its 26th year and brings close to 90,000 people to Bethlehem each year.

Mark Demko, spokesman for ArtsQuest, which runs Christkindlmarkt, said the Christmas bazaar, held over six weekends, has an estimated impact of more than $5.7 million each year.

This year Christkindlmarkt has a record number of artisans and vendors with 200 of them coming in from 20 states.

Demko said the event was created because it was clear that visitors to Bethlehem enjoyed doing their shopping surrounded not only by the charm of the city, but also by all of the holiday events the city hosts.

“When you think of Christmas in the Christmas City, you want to take in the whole thing. It’s about the experience,” he said.

That’s why he said every addition to the holiday menu in the city is a bump to Bethlehem’s economy.

Christkindlmarkt, which is a tented venue at PNC Plaza at SteelStacks, isn’t the only shopping-centric event for the holiday season.

For those who want to capture the Main Street shopping scene and its historic charm, there is another holiday shopping experience with another tongue-twisting German name. Christmas City Village Weihnachtsmarkt is an open air market in the Sun Inn Courtyard just off Main Street.

It has a rotating roster of vendors each weekend through Dec. 23 and is run by the Downtown Bethlehem Association.

Christkindlmarkt charges an entry fee, but has music and entertainment as part of admission. The downtown market is free.

And while Demko said it’s clear that “people love to shop for Christmas in the Christmas City,” there are also many things to do that are just about culture and entertainment.

You can take the Holiday Putz Trail (for those who don’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch a Putz is a Nativity Scene or Creche.) 

The trail takes explorers to see holiday Putz displays at Kemerer Museum, Moravian Museum, Single Sisters House, and 1810 Goundie House.

Why not take a gander at the Trees of Historic Bethlehem?


You’ll get to check out some delightfully decorated trees along much the same path as the Holiday Putz Trail. Group event passes are available.

You can take a self-guided tour of the Hotel Bethlehem’s Christmas décor for free

The hotel recommends that folks start off in the main lobby, built in 1922 in the midst of the “Roaring Twenties.” Take a journey back in time as you explore the Corinthian columns and gaze at replicas of the original lighting fixtures overhead. Swing by The Tap Room, festive with holiday spirit and oversized lighted ornaments, a nice pause for a Hot Toddy before continuing on to the Lobby level.

Besides Christkindlmarkt, which is its second-largest annual event after Musikfest in August, ArtsQuest is also organizing Bethlehem by Night bus tours and a Christmas City Stroll through the Historic District, with costumed guides and historical tales of Christmases past.

However, if you want kick it up a notch, as Emeril Lagasse would say (He has a couple of restaurants at the Bethlehem Sands), why not tour the Bethlehem Christmas lights by horse-drawn carriage with Christmas Carriage Rides in Historic Bethlehem? They run through New Year’s Eve.

Such ventures aren’t just fun and inspiring for those looking to get into the holiday spirit. Demko notes that they’re also great for the Bethlehem economy.

Just at Christkindlmarkt alone, more than 60 percent of the vendors and food providers are local, small businesses that see the event as one of their largest sources of revenue through the year.

Even people showing up for the free events are likely to eat in one of the city’s restaurants or stop in one of the city’s year-round retailers to make a purchase or two.

And while you’re taking in the sparkling holiday lights, don’t forget to check out the beautiful, old-fashioned street lights along Main Street. My Dad, a retired electrician from West Side Electric in the city, helped install them many moons ago. So they, in my humble opinion, are the very best part of Christmas in the Christmas City.



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