Written By Nicole Radzievich Mertz
Forget the jack-o-lanterns and haunted houses. Christkindlmarkt is here – and it’s no trick.
The Yuletide treat has arrived in Lehigh Valley – and it’s not yet Halloween.
The holiday market opened in early October and will run weekends through Nov. 29 at the SteelStacks campus, providing patrons an early chance to browse the crafts and wares of nearly 80 artisans while the weather is still warm.
The COVID pandemic forced Christkindlmarkt to shed its heated, white tents in favor of the more traditional open-air market after which the German-themed event is modeled. The set-up provides a safer environment based on CDC and state guidelines, and organizers decided to open before it’s cold outside.
“This year, more than ever, it’s important to support these crafters and businesses, the majority of whom have been hit hard by pandemic-related restrictions and closures,” said Kassie Hilgert, CEO and President of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that runs the market. “We are excited that we have been able to transform Christkindlmarkt into an authentic outdoor market and provide and opportunity for local artisans and vendors to support their livelihood.”
Christkindlmarkt debuted in 1993 to lure more tourists near struggling downtown businesses as the Bethlehem’s namesake industry Bethlehem Steel was ebbing toward bankruptcy. The idea aimed to do for local merchants during the holidays what Musikfest, now the nation’s largest free music festival, did for them during the summer.
The concept draws on the city’s Germanic and Christian roots. The Moravian missionaries, a Protestant sect that traces its roots to Herrnhut, Germany, settled the banks of the Monocacy Creek and christened their community Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1741. The city had long drawn on that heritage, marketing Bethlehem as Christmas City USA since the Great Depression and running popular holiday light tours during the evenings.
Christkindlmarkt became an instant holiday hit. In addition to hand-crafted gifts, the market expanded to include tastes and sounds of the season: German strudel, carols and visits from St. Nick. In 2011, it moved from South Main Street to the new SteelStacks arts and cultural campus underneath the shadow of the towering blast furnaces that once powered Bethlehem Steel.
Christkindlmarkt now commands international attention for its holiday shopping experience. Christkindlmarkt was among the top holiday markets in the world by Travel + Leisure and in North America by USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice competition.
While the look will be new this year, Christkindlmarkt will still feature beloved hallmarks like glass Moravian stars and handmade nutcrackers but also have a little autumn-themed crafts like gourd ornaments to honor the early start. The familiar array of booths will include hand-crafted cheeses, chocolates and spirits as well as wickless candles, jewelry and hats.
Festival favorites, such as German bratwurst and strudel, will be available as well as special holiday menus and food truck fare. There will also be a bit of holiday spirit with Hot Toddies and other specialty drinks, and St. Nicholas arrives on Nov. 7.
Activities, however, have been adapted to keep attendees safe – like the traditional photo with St. Nicholas. St. Nick, who arrives Nov. 7, will sit for socially distanced photos on Saturdays and host virtual cooking events via Zoom on Sundays.
It wouldn’t be an ArtsQuest event without a little music. New this year is an “Outdoor Dining and Show experience” at SteelStacks Air Products Town Square. Patrons can dine on a special holiday dining menu and be entertained to the likes of Dolcetto, Joy Ike and Craig Thatcher & Nyke Van Wyk. There are two seatings: 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are required. Complete details to come.
PLANNING TO VISIT? HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Probably the biggest change will be the need to buy tickets in advance for specific days and times so organizers can space people in adherence to health guidelines.
Dates and Hours:
Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 8 – Nov. 29
(closed Thurs., Nov. 26 for Thanksgiving)
|Thursday||10 a.m.-6 p.m. (last entry at 4:30 p.m.)|
|Friday||10 a.m.-8 p.m. (last entry at 6:30 p.m.)|
|Saturday||10 a.m.-8 p.m. (last entry at 6:30 p.m.)|
|Sunday||10 a.m.-6 p.m. (last entry at 4:30 p.m.)|
Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem presented by Univest Financial®, takes place at SteelStacks, located at 645 E. First St., Bethlehem.
Tickets can be purchased at christmascity.org. Children ages 2 and under are free. Admission ticket prices are as follows:
Patrons can park for free in the parking lots on First Street.
Masking and other safety protocols
All staff, volunteers, vendors and patrons must wear facemasks in all indoor and outdoor areas except while eating and drinking. State capacity guidelines will also be followed. Cleaning and disinfecting procedures have been expanded throughout the event.
Although this year will look different, check out the video below from Localish visiting last year’s event in Christmas City USA.