Christmas in Bethlehem PA isn’t just about the magic-filled, small-town, holiday vibe that fills the air. The history, the charm and the unique Moravian heritage of Bethlehem combine to make it a perfect holiday gathering place.
I made my first trip to experience Christmas in Bethlehem last year from Gettysburg PA, and want to make it part of my holiday traditions from now on. Yes, it’s that wonderful!
Come along as I show you the holiday charm, and assorted holiday attractions and events that make Bethlehem PA a truly extraordinary historical destination during the holiday season.
Past Lane Travels contains affiliate links and is a member of the Amazon LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you.
My Top 3 Picks: Christmas In Bethlehem
Table of Contents
Why Is Bethlehem Called Christmas City?
Known far and wide as “Christmas City USA,” Bethlehem offers a unique and enchanting Christmas experience that seamlessly blends history, tradition and modern festivities.
Bethlehem PA has been called Christmas City USA since 1937, and definitely lives up to the name.
“Bethlehem did not create Christmas, Christmas created Bethlehem.”
– Vernon Melhado, President of the 1937 Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce
Just take a look at the list of holiday things to do below and you can see why it is called Christmas City. Between the holiday music playing on the streets and the Bethlehem Star shining down from a distant hill, you can’t help but feel the spirit of Christmas.
Let’s take a look at why Christmas in Bethlehem is such a wonderful place to visit over the holidays.
Is Bethlehem Pa Worth Visiting For Christmas?
Yes, Bethlehem PA is worth visting for Christmas. Picture a festive holiday town all decked out with lights, the clip-clop of horses giving carriage rides, seasonal music playing in the background, and holiday tree tours.
Like learning about historical destinations? Sign up for my newsletter!
The unique shops (all within a very walkable mile) make for excellent Christmas shopping, and the history tours are icing on the cake. This combination is one of the reasons Historic Bethlehem was named a “Top 10 Main Street” by USA Today.
It sounds cliche to say the town is “magical,” but I was truly swept away by the history, the holiday traditions…and the shopping!
With a location close to Manhattan and Philadelphia, Bethlehem makes a wonderful weekend getaway and will definitely get you into the holiday spirit.
11 Magical Things To Do: Christmas In Bethlehem
1. Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites
Part of the charm of Bethlehem is its historic and interesting past, so to truly appreciate Bethlehem’s holiday magic, I’ll start with its rich history.
The Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites are the cornerstone of this city’s draw, transporting visitors back in time to explore its Moravian heritage.
There are a number of historic buildings to explore, and the fact that they are adorned with Christmas lights over the holiday season gives them extra appeal.
Of course, a visit to the Moravian Book Shop is an absolute must. Recognized as America’s oldest continually operating bookstore, it’s a great place to find unique holiday gifts while getting a glimpse into the history of Bethlehem.
Related Post: If you like history, there are lots of historic sites in Pennsylvania.
2. Live Advent Calendar: A Daily Dose of Holiday Wonder
I love the tradition of a Live Advent Calendar in downtown Bethlehem at Christmas.
This event unfolds throughout the month of December, and features visitors gathering outside the 1810 Goundie House each evening and knocking on the door.
When the door is opened, a special guest from a local business or organization appears and distributes treats to the crowd. This heartwarming event captures the very essence of the Christmas season, drawing both locals and visitors to witness the magical gift giving.
The idea of the “Live Advent Calendar” comes from the tradition of Advent Calendars or Christmas Countdown Calendars for children and families during the holidays.
3. Hotel Bethlehem: Where Luxury Meets Festivity
For a true holiday experience, consider booking a night at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. This grand hotel, adorned with stunning holiday decorations, offers not only luxurious accommodations but also a rich history dating back to its founding in 1922.
During the Christmas season, the hotel hosts a variety of special events and dining experiences that will get you in the holiday mood.
I visited the Historic Hotel Bethlehem around Christmastime, and it was breathtaking! The two, ceiling-high Christmas trees that dominate the entrance area are stunning.
This historic hotel sells out for the holidays so book your room early. It’s worth it!
Even if you don’t stay there, make sure you walk through the lobby. It’s a real treat!
4. Christmas City Village: The Epitome of Holiday Shopping
You can’t experience Christmas in Bethlehem PA without going shopping.
Bring your shopping list and explore the Christmas City Village and Christmas Hut on Main in Bethlehem.
The charming, holiday-themed wooden huts are filled with unique holiday gift ideas. Plus you can explore charming retail stores, fine dining establishments, and historical Moravian museums as you stroll through the festively decorated Downtown.
Visiting the huts is free and open to the public.
There is also a Free Christmas City Trolley that can take you to the SouthSide Arts District of Bethlehem.
5. Christkindlmarkt: A Christmas In Bethlehem Tradition
Many people come to Christmas in Bethlehem because of the famous Christkindlmarkt.
Presented by Univest Financial,® this shopping experience is a one-of-a-kind family event that celebrates the spirit of the season in Bethlehem, Pa.
(It’s been recognized as one of the best holiday markets in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure)
The Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt features handmade works by some of the nation’s finest artisans, including Käthe Wohlfahrt who offers handmade ornaments, nutcrackers and collectibles from Germany.
Location: 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem PA
Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem Dates 2023
The market begins on Friday, November 17 and runs weekends until December 17.
The event is open Friday-Sunday the first two weekends of its run and starting November 30 they add Thursdays to the mix.
PNC Plaza at SteelStacks | Bethlehem, PA
- November 17-19
- November 24-26
- November 30-December 3
- December 7-10
- December 14-17
6. Christmas City Stroll: A Guided Journey Through Time
The Christmas City Stroll lets you slow down and enjoy Bethlehem’s historic streets. These guided tours navigate you through the city’s different districts while weaving captivating narratives of holiday traditions and the enthralling history of Christmas in Bethlehem.
The tours include stops at iconic landmarks, offering participants a deeper understanding of the city’s rich and storied holiday heritage.
For instance, you can learn the history behind a candle in every window, bees wax candles and the renowned Star of Bethlehem.
Other historical highlights include beautiful Victorian and colonial architecture, such as the 1741 Gemeinhaus and the Bethlehem Waterworks.
7. Bethlehem by Night Bus Tour
I loved the Bethlehem By Night Bus Tour! It’s a wonderful way to get an overview of the different historic aspects and customs of the town.
Sitting in a warm tour bus, you get lots of information from a guide dressed in period attire.
You even get to go behind the famed Star of Bethlehm and see the star from a different angle.
I also liked that it included information about Bethlehem Steel and that part of the town’s history. I found the historic side of Bethlehem so interesting, I never made it over there.
8. Christmas in Bethlehem PA: Trees of Historic Bethlehem
The Trees of Historic Bethlehem is a long-standing custom that is part of Christmas in Bethlehem. This self-guided tour features more than 28 trees on display across different historic sites.
Each year there is a different theme for the Christmas trees they are beautifully decorated by the Bethlehem Garden Club and local volunteers.
Part of the fun of Christmas in Bethlehem is exploring the historic sites and seeing the trees.
9. The Star of Bethlehem In Christmas City USA
I think the most magical thing about Christmas in Bethlehem is the star that shines on the hillside.
In the years since Bethlehem came to be known as Christmas City USA, its most prominent decoration has shined down from South Mountain. This giant star mimicks the Biblical guide of the Magi, and is another example of what makes Christmas in Bethlehem so special.
Some reports say a wooden star first appeared in 1935, though others put it as late as 1938. The wood was soon supported with steel from Bethlehem steel.
The design is a five-pointed star with eight rays. The old lights were replaced in 2010 with 258 7-watt LED lights, which can be seen more than 20 miles away!
The star is located at Bethlehem’s highest point, 890 feet above sea level. The structure is 91 feet tall and 40 feet wide, and is a warm reminder of the meaning of Christmas.
When it was built, it was reported to be the largest individual electric display in the world.
Purchase a look-alike Bethlehem Moravian star.
10. Take A Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
I enjoyed hearing the constant clip-clop of horses while shopping and exploring on Main Street.
This magical holiday tradition involves all sizes of horse-drawn carriages from a single horse to three.
The scenic horsedrawn carriage ride is the perfect way to enjoy the lights, sights, and sounds of Christmas City with your family and friends!
Four-person horse-drawn carriage rides can be reserved for up to 4 adults and 2 children on laps.
Rides leave from the Kemerer Museum and run every 20 minutes between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. All carriages have a break from 6 to 6:20 PM.
Related Story: Mark your calendar for the first weekend in December for the Gettysburg Christmas Festival.
11. Bethlehem Holiday Putz Trail
People in this part of Pennsylvania are accustomed to the word “Putz,” but others do not know what it is.
The word is pronounced “puts” and is derived from a German verb putzen, which means to clean or polish, but also can mean to trim or decorate.
The Moravians brought the tradition of making putzes at Christmas from Saxony to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the 18th century.
For the Moravians, the putz was a three-dimensional miniature retelling of the Nativity. This kind of visual representation of the Christmas story—both in the putz and in the paintings that often accompanied it—were exclusive to the Moravians in that time.
During Christmas in Bethlehem festivities, you can explore Bethlehem’s unique Holiday Putz Trail.
These tiny replicas, which make use of elaborately hand-crafted figurines, depict various scenes from the Nativity Story. They are amazing, especially for people who have never heard of this tradition.
How Did Bethlehem PA Get Its Name?
Bethlehem was founded more than 250 years ago when a religious group from the Moravian Church purchased land where the Monocacy Creek flows into the Lehigh River.
The town was christened on Christmas Eve, 1741, in a stable while the small group of Moravians were singing a hymn with the stanza “Not Jerusalem, Lowly Bethlehem.”
The first Moravians felled white oak trees and began building their community on the 500 acre tract purchased in the spring.
They located their crafts, trades, and industries along the Monocacy Creek and Lehigh River and their institutional dwellings on the limestone bluff along what is now Church Street.
The story of the Moravians in Bethlehem is truy fascinating. It’s a piece of history I never knew about.
Wrap-Up Of Christmas In Bethlehem PA
I can tell you from experience that Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, lives up to its moniker as “Christmas City, USA.” With its storied history, live advent calendar, Moravian traditions, and contemporary holiday festivities, it offers an unparalleled Christmas experience for the entire family.
Whether you find yourself leisurely wandering through the historic streets, unearthing unique gifts, or delighting in a charming carriage ride through the city, Bethlehem’s holiday season promises to fill your heart with the enchantment of Christmas.
To ensure you make the absolute most of your Christmas in Bethlehem experience, be sure to explore the Discover Lehigh Valley website. This comprehensive resource provides an exhaustive list of holiday events, activities, and dining options that span the entire Lehigh Valley region.
As the holiday season approaches, and life gets more hectic, plan a getaway that will help you enjoy the magic of Christmas.
There is nothing that compares to the experience of spending Christmas in Bethlehem PA.
In Philadephia, visit the Museum of the American Revolution
Also nearby is Valley Forge, where Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777.
Places To Stay In Bethlehem PA
Disclosure: I was hosted by the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, but the post reflects my honest opinion.