In December of 1937, the mayor of Bethlehem, Robert Preifle, wanted to revive a city that was struggling from the Great Depression. In an attempt to increase tourism, Preifle pitched an idea to the chamber of commerce to give Bethlehem the name “Christmas City” in honor of its founding on Christmas Eve hundreds of years earlier. His efforts were warmly received and culminated with the lighting of festive streetlights and the Bethlehem star. The original star was built of wood and stood 61 feet tall, lit by a string of 100 bulbs. Today, the steel star is decorated with 254 lights and stands over 91 feet tall.
People from all over the world now flock to the Christmas City, especially during the holiday season, according to Sara Mercer at the Bethlehem Visitors Center.
“We’re Christmas City; it’s not for nothing,” Mercer said.
Diane Ivankovits, a local resident, summed up the special feeling in Christmas City at this time of year.
“Everything feels like home,” Ivankovits said. “It’s friendly, you can walk down the street and get a smile.”
Both the South Side and Historic North Side boast a number of attractions for visitors during the holidays, including Christmas markets, horse drawn carriages through historic Main Street and museum exhibits.
On the South Side, visit Christkindlmarkt, an arts and crafts market at the SteelStacks, which is set to celebrate its 22 year with 100 artisans each week. At the Christkindlmarkt courtyard you can observe ice-sculpting demonstrations, watch artists from ArtsQuest Glass Studio perform glassblowing demonstrations or make your own Christmas ornament. The festival began Nov. 20 and runs until Dec. 21. It is open Thursday through Sunday.
Watch classic holiday films, while shouting out your favorite lines, at the Holiday Quote-A-Long Series at the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas in the ArtsQuest Center. Some of the featured movies include, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” on Dec. 10 and “It’s A Wonderful Life” on Dec. 20 and 21.
Take a horse-drawn wagonette ride around south Bethlehem and the Bethlehem Steel Corridor now through December 21.
Sample cupcakes from local bakeries and vote for your favorite at ArtsQuests’ Cupcake Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 27 at 12:30 p.m.
On the historic North Side, across the river, historic Bethlehem has many attractions of its own.
Sip a hot chocolate at the Hotel Bethlehem while enjoying the beautiful Christmas decorations, including 35,000 lights, 26 Christmas trees and 36 wreaths. Decorating the hotel requires over 1,000 hours of labor each year.
Stop by The Moravian Book Shop, which opened its doors in 1745, earning it the title of the oldest running bookstore in the world. It’s always Christmas in the Moravian room, but the shops’ windows are uniquely decorated each year for the holidays.
Bring a friend and hop on a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Christmas City until Dec. 30, or take a candlelight walk with guides in period dress.
Vote for your favorite “Trees of Christmas Past” decorated by The Bethlehem Garden Club. Each tree tells its own story of Christmas City’s holiday traditions throughout the years.